Farmworker advocates speak out against controversial pesticide after EPA rules out ban

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Central Valley farmworkers advocacy group is calling on the governor to ban a pesticide that the Environmental Protect Agency once said is unsafe.

Under the Obama Administration, chlorpyrifos was supposed to be phased out this year, but the Trump Administration is going in a different direction to provide "regulatory certainty" to thousands of American farms that rely on the pesticide.

While many farmers are in the season of growing almonds and fruits, one Central Valley group is working to ban a popular chemical used to keep crops alive.

Chlorpyrifos was scheduled to be pulled off the market at the end of March after the Obama administration revealed it could harm children's brains and create respiratory problems.

Sarah Sharpe, with the Central California Asthma Collaborative, does not understand why the EPA is now backing down when for nearly 20 years the pesticide has been banned for home use.

"If it's not allowed to be used in your home, you shouldn't be able to use it in a field that is right next door to people's homes and right next to a school," she said.

Andre Tolmachoff is an almond grower. His farm stopped using the controversial pesticide more than a decade ago because of health concerns.

"It was a dangerous material," he said. "It smelled really bad. They had to weaken the chemistry because it used to volatilize in the air - it was dangerous."

But citrus farmer John Martzen said having this chemical in the toolbox helps stop resistance issues.

"You don't want to use the same material over and over again or the pest becomes resistant to it," Martzen said.

The EPA released a statement, saying in part "by reversing the previous administration's steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making - rather than predetermined results."

However, a farming advocacy group, though small in size, is not taking that message lightly. Their hope is to convince Gov. Jerry Brown to ban it in the state.

U.S. Farms use more than six million pounds of the chemical each year. That is about 25 percent of it in California.
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