Crucial Report: Experts Call for a Ban on Organophosphate Pesticides

Crucial Report: Experts Call for a Ban on Organophosphate Pesticides
Posted on

An expert panel of toxicologists is calling for an entire class of pesticides to be banned because they threaten the health of both pregnant women and children.

The paper, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, states that exposure to organophosphates (OPs) increases the risk of lower IQs, memory and attention deficits, and autism for prenatal children.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, the paper’s lead author and director of the UC Davis environmental health sciences center, said:

“We have compelling evidence from dozens of human studies that exposures of pregnant women to very low levels organophosphate pesticides put children and fetuses at risk for developmental problems that may last a lifetime. By law, the EPA cannot ignore such clear findings: It’s time for a ban not just on chlorpyrifos, but all organophosphate pesticides.”

No Safe Level of Exposure

For the study, researchers reviewed data and literature on organophosphate pesticides and analyzed and cross-referenced scores of reviews and epidemiological studies from a United Nations (UN) database spanning 71 countries, and other material.

The team found that U.S. regulators had already quietly banned 26 out of 40 OPs considered hazardous to human health. Regulators in the U.K. have banned 33 out of 39.

Despite the bans, the UN estimates that pesticide poisoning kills as many as 200,000 people every year, 99% of them in the developing world. A further 110,000 people use pesticides to commit suicide each year. [2]

Scientists say there is no safe level of OP exposure.

Jennifer Sass, co-author of the study and a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDC), said:

“We’re very concerned that we’re not confident there is any safe level to these chemicals.”

Natural Society
Average annual tonnes of OP pesticides used in agriculture, by country, 2010–2015 | Darker shading indicates greater usage. Gray shading indicates that no data were available during that time period. For countries with data available for some but not all years during 2010–2015, the available data within that period were used. (Click for larger version.)

Political Agendas Usurp Common Sense

In the United States, the Trump administration is currently appealing an August federal court ban on chlorpyrifos, one of the most widely-used agricultural OP insecticides.

In 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned chlorpyrifos for in-home use and was planning to ban the chemical’s use on food. Moreover, the agency was set to prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos at thousands of farms still using the chemical, but then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt ignored the recommendation of agency scientists and reversed course.

In the report, the authors urge all nations that still use OPs to ban the class of insecticides outright and begin phasing them out.

OPs are ubiquitous; they are commonly-sprayed on golf courses, schools, shopping malls, and other public places. They are also prevalent in flea and tick treatments for dogs and cats, as well as in insecticides used to kill mosquitoes that potentially harbor the Zika and West Nile virus. It’s pretty hard to avoid exposure to the chemicals.

Robin Whyatt, study co-author and a professor at Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York, said: [1]

“The problem is that when you have an exposure as ubiquitous as this, you get distributional shifts in IQ, with fewer people in the brilliant range and more in the lower ranges of IQ. That can have a very substantial economic impact on societies in terms of the ruined potential of children’s abilities.”

Sass and her colleagues said they want medical schools to design curricula around educating doctors and nurses to identify both acute and chronic effects of exposure, and direct pregnant women and parents of young children on how to avoid OP exposure, the latter of which could prove challenging. [2]

No Easy Solution



Organophosphate insecticides became popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s, at a time when they were believed to be safer than 3 widely used organochlorine insecticides called DDT, aldrin, and dieldrin. OPs, which degrade much faster than organochlorines, were already commonplace by the time the EPA banned DDT in 1972.

A total ban on OPs could anger farmers, as slashing their use would require low-tech growing methods such as crop rotation, traps, and vacuums for pests, and intercropping – the process of planting 2 or more crops in close proximity, thus reducing the susceptibility to disease and pests. In other words, growing crops would become far more complicated than simply spraying insecticides on them.

But the extra efforts mean healthier kids.

Sass said:

“It’s a complicated answer, but the answer has to be moving toward using less and more targeted uses of these agrochemicals. The agrochemical industry itself calls it plant medicine, so use it like medicine, use it only with prescription.”

In the meantime, as the politics play out, parents can reduce their children’s exposure to OPs through buying organic food. [1]

Whyatt said that:

“a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is critical for health, and this review should not affect that in any way. People can protect themselves by buying organic or pesticide-free foods. They can also reduce the residues on foods by simply washing it under the tap even if they are peeling it afterwards.”


[1] The Guardian

[2] The Huffington Post