California Attorney General Rob Bonta applauded a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make a required safety finding for chlorpyrifos residues detected on food. Chlorpyrifos is a widely used agricultural pesticide approved for use on more than 80 food crops. For years, the EPA has possessed compelling evidence that exposure to chlorpyrifos harms brain development in infants and young children but, under the Trump Administration, abruptly ended the rulemaking process to revoke its approval for use on foods. The decision orders the EPA to either modify the existing chlorpyrifos tolerances for residue on foods and publish findings that such modified tolerances are safe for humans, including for infants and children, within 60 days or revoke all tolerances for the pesticide. The Court also ordered EPA to modify or cancel related food uses of chlorpyrifos under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

“Because of the Trump Administration’s refusal to make a required safety finding on chlorpyrifos, parents in California and across the country were left to question whether everyday fruits and vegetables were poisoning their children,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I hope today’s critical victory allows them to rest a little easier.”

The EPA regulates the use of pesticides on food crops and the resulting human exposure to the pesticides. To allow a pesticide to be used on food crops, the EPA must comply with the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which requires that the EPA establish or maintain tolerances for pesticides only if the EPA Administrator has determined that the tolerance is safe.

In November 2015, the EPA proposed a rule to revoke all residue levels of chlorpyrifos on food crops because of safety concerns. Specifically, the EPA noted that chlorpyrifos adversely affected the neurodevelopmental development of children. However, in March 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt abruptly reversed course, ended the rulemaking process, and issued an order that left in effect the existing tolerances of chlorpyrifos without making the required safety finding. The California Department of Justice, joining a multistate coalition, filed a lawsuit on August 17, 2019, after the EPA rejected the States’ administrative petition objecting to the EPA’s decision not to revoke food tolerances for chlorpyrifos. California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation has cancelled virtually all agricultural use of chlorpyrifos in the state effective December 31, 2020 because of mounting evidence that chlorpyrifos is associated with serious health effects in children and other sensitive populations.