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Latino groups vow to fight for ban on pesticide linked to children's health problems

"The fight to ban this chemical that poisons farmworkers and all consumers from the food we eat is not finished," the president of the United Farm Workers said.
Image: Pesticides are sprayed over a field in Maryland.
Pesticides are sprayed over a field in Maryland.Edwin Remsburg / UIG via Getty Images file

Farmworkers and Latino civil rights groups say they're not backing down from a decadeslong fight to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide associated with possible neurological problems in children.

Latino groups did claim a victory after Corteva Agriscience, the nation's largest producer of the pesticide, said it would stop making it. Corteva maintains its product is safe, and told Reuters its decision was based on declining sales, not health or safety concerns.

Corteva's announcement that it is halting the production of the pesticide, used to kill insects and worms on contact by attacking their nervous systems, came after California banned its use Thursday. California, the biggest agricultural state, became the second state after Hawaii to ban chlorpyrifos.

Several studies have linked prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos to lower birth weight, lower IQ, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other developmental issues in children.

The Obama administration announced in 2015 it would ban the pesticide after the Environmental Protection Agency's own scientific studies said it could potentially cause neurological damage. But the ban didn't go into effect until 2017, and by then, the EPA under the Trump administration decided to reverse the ban.

Domingo García, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said in a statement Tuesday that chlorpyrifos, which has been used for decades on crops such as corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees, has been exposing millions of Latino farmworkers and their families to a chemical "with a proven history of causing low birth weight in babies, hurting the ability of children to learn and even causing attention deficit disorders.”

The nation's oldest Latino civil rights organization has been fighting to ban the use of chlorpyrifos for years. Last year, LULAC was the primary plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the EPA for refusing to ban the pesticide. At the time, courts ruled in the group's favor and ordered the pesticide completely off the market. The EPA appealed the decision.

"The move by chlorpyrifos’ biggest manufacturer to stop its production is a significant victory, but the fight to ban this chemical that poisons farmworkers and all consumers from the food we eat is not finished," Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers, said in a statement.

García said the drop in Corteva's sales could be linked to efforts from states and countries such as Canada to phase out or ban chlorpyrifos.

“This clearly shows the power of the people when we fight injustice and stand up for what is right even if it seems that we are but a David going up against a multibillion-dollar Goliath,” he said.

Marisa Ordonia, senior associate attorney at the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice, said in a statement that "while we are celebrating this victory, we will continue fighting to protect children from chlorpyrifos and other brain-damaging pesticides.”

“There are other chlorpyrifos manufacturers and the pesticide will still be allowed on imported foods," she said. "The government must take a stand and ban this chemical.”

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