The House farm bill includes several proposals that would roll back key pesticide protections, putting children, farmworkers, communities and even endangered species at risk.
Pesticides pose serious health risks, particularly to children. For example, chlorpyrifos is a potent neurotoxin that harms children’s brain development. Other pesticides have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues like lower sperm counts, environmental harms, and acute health effects like nausea, dizziness and vomiting. Some pesticides, such as atrazine, which is linked to reproductive harm, routinely contaminate drinking water systems.
Because federal laws fall short of protecting Americans from the potential hazards of pesticides, some states and local governments have stepped in to protect their communities by enacting their own restrictions. This map, created by our colleagues at Beyond Pesticides, shows the number and diversity of communities that have taken action.
- Cherry Hill, N.J., just outside of Philadelphia, has a pesticide-free parks program.
- Rockland County, N.Y., restricts the use of pesticides on public property.
- New Paltz, N.Y., banned the use of toxic pesticides on village-owned lands and adopted organic pest-control methods.
- North Miami, Fla., has an integrated pest management law that would restrict the use of some pesticides on city property and encourages use of pesticides to be a last resort.
- Irvine, Calif., restricts the use of pesticides on public property, including playgrounds, in favor of organic pest control methods.
- Encinitas, Calif., also has a policy restricting use of some toxic pesticides, neonicotinoids, and urges the use of the least-toxic pesticide first.
- Washington, D.C., restricts use of toxic pesticides in public spaces like schools, some private spaces like day-care centers, and properties near bodies of water.
- Wichita, Kan., launched a pilot pesticide-free parks program.
- South Euclid, Ohio, banned spraying pesticides in parks and on other city-owned properties.
But the House farm bill targets these kind of local restrictions, putting kids and communities at risk.
The House version of the farm bill, introduced last month, would block local governments from adopting their own pesticide regulations, even if those regulations are designed to protect kids and other vulnerable populations. Section 9101 of the bill would prevent cities, counties and communities from passing laws banning the most toxic pesticides like chlorpyrifos, or restricting spraying in places like schools or playgrounds where children might be exposed. Given the critical role that local governments have historically played in regulating pesticide use, this would be a significant setback for public health.
The House bill would also allow farmers to directly spray pesticides into drinking water supplies. Under current law, farmers must get a permit before they can spray pesticides into water, including sources of drinking water. Sections 9117 and 9118 remove the federal requirement that farmers get a permit before spraying pesticides into water and prohibit states from imposing their own requirements.
Making it easier to spray toxic pesticides into sources of drinking water and removing government oversight undoubtedly increases the likelihood drinking water will be contaminated. It also increases the burden on water utilities to clean up the messes pesticide applicators make.
The House farm bill could also hurt the farmworkers responsible for applying pesticides.
Farmworkers are often responsible for applying pesticides, and handling the crops and land where pesticides have been sprayed. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 workers may be poisoned by pesticides every year. To better protect the most vulnerable workers, in 2015 the EPA finalized new agricultural worker protection requirements that imposed age requirements for handling pesticides and required better training and access to information for workers. Recently, the EPA delayed implementation of these new requirements and announced plans to roll back some of the key workers’ protections in 2015 rule.
In response, a group of senators led by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., placed a hold on the reauthorization of a key government pesticide registration program until they receive adequate assurance that workers would be protected. Instead of addressing Udall’s concerns and protecting farmworkers from pesticide exposure, the House farm bill simply reauthorizes the program without any farmworker protections.
The House bill also threatens endangered species.
Under current law, the EPA must consult with other agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service before approving a pesticide that could impact an endangered or threatened species. Section 9111 of the House bill would allow the EPA to approve pesticides without going through this process, and would limit the ability of groups to sue when an endangered species is threatened by a pesticide approval. Another provision in the bill would allow for some uses of methyl bromide, a neurotoxic fumigant pesticide currently being phased outbecause it contributes to ozone depletion.
These provisions show how the farm bill is being used to systematically weaken – instead of strengthen – pesticide protections. Congress should prioritize safety for kids and communities, not protect pesticide manufacturers.