LIHUE — Citing limited and invalid data, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it wouldn’t be banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which some studies show cause health problems in children.
The announcement met the deadline ordered by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for the EPA to make a final decision on a petition to ban chlorpyrifos’ use on food crops.
Earthjustice, the environmental law firm, brought the legal challenge against the EPA in 2017.
“EPA has determined that their objections must be denied because the data available are not sufficiently valid, complete or reliable to meet petitioners’ burden to present evidence demonstrating that the tolerances are not safe,” the agency said in a statement about the decision on Thursday.
The stance is opposite to that taken by Hawaii lawmakers in 2018, when Act 45 was passed and signed by Gov. David Ige, banning the use of chlorpyrifos.
The state ban took effect Jan. 1, 2019 with caveats — the ability for users to get permits for a three-year period of transition.
Those permits are being distributed by the state’s Department of Agriculture. DOA Pesticide Branch Manager John McHugh said they’re being issued for six-month intervals and can be renewed every six months up until Dec. 31, 2022.
That’s the “drop-dead date,” he said, as the full ban takes place on Jan. 1, 2023, and users won’t be able to permits to use chlorpyrifos in Hawaii. The pesticide is an organophosphate chemical that’s been in use since 1965, part of a class of chemicals used mostly as insecticides.
According to EPA, the biggest agricultural market for chlorpyrifos is corn, but it’s also used on soybeans, fruit and nut trees, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, broccoli and cauliflower. Non-agricultural uses include golf courses, turf and greenhouses.
Act 45 did specifically focus on chlorpyrifos, creating requirements for 100-foot buffer zones around schools and reporting requirements that lead up to the eventual outright ban, but it laid down rules for other restricted-use pesticides as well, mainly reporting annually to the state DOA.
According to McHugh, 17 permits were issued this year, since January, for operations using pesticides containing chlorpyrifos — eight on Hawaii Island, including one renewal; seven issued on Oahu, mainly to Bayer, owned by Monsanto; one issued for Maui and one for Kauai.
That one permit on Kauai is for Corteva Agrisciences, the agricultural division of DowDuPont. Corteva manufactures the pesticide, but production is not located on Kauai, according to Corteva representatives.
Enforcement inspectors are sent out to all permit holders for inspection of use and to make sure applicators are following the rules.
“We did a use inspection last week (at Corteva Agrisciences), and my understanding is they haven’t used chlorpyrifos since the permit was issued,” McHugh said. “The last time I had any communication was a couple weeks ago, and they hadn’t used chlorpyrifos yet.”
A report of that inspection has not yet been released.
Challenges for DOA
As the law was being passed, representatives with the DOA voiced concerns they wouldn’t have the budgetary means to fulfill all of Act 45’s requirements. And, a little more than a year later, that’s still preventing the department from fulfilling the mandates of the law.
The Legislature, upon passing the bill that became Act 45, dedicated funding for two new positions at DOA in order to handle new responsibilities of data- and application-processing, and to compile reports.
But that money was only for one fiscal year, and by the time DOA put together job descriptions for the two positions, there was only three months left in fiscal 2018-19.
“We had a hard time finding someone who only wanted to work for three months,” McHugh said.
So DOA requested and secured funding for the FY 2019-20, which started July 1, and are getting ready to conduct interviews and make hires.
It’ll be just in time for the first round of reporting, too, as RUP use by certified applicators has to be reported to DOA no later than Jan. 30, 2020. All that data will have to be complied.
The other struggle for DOA’s pesticides division is the pesticide-drift-monitoring study — looking at how pesticide application impacts schools.
The Legislature appropriated $300,000 to the department for the study. DOA says they need $650,000 more just to start.
“I suspect they got the $300,000 figure from the one study conducted at Waimea Canyon Middle School. That was just one island,” McHugh said. “We are looking at three schools on three islands.”
He said the department looked to the pesticide-use revolving fund and other funds, but still weren’t able to get enough money together to start the study by the end of the fiscal year.
The plan is to go back to the Legislature and ask for more money so they can tackle the project.
A ban on chlorpyrfos was enacted on a federal level in 2015 by the EPA of the Obama administration, citing studies that it was harming children’s brains and impacting human health. In 2017, the decision was reversed by then EPA head Scott Pruitt, triggering further lawsuits.
Review of the safety of chlorpyrifos on a federal level will continue through 2022.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.