The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday said it will ban the use on food crops of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to health problems in children.

The decision is a victory for environmental activists who have fought to stop the use of the chemical that is applied to crops ranging from corn and soybeans to Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

"EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health," said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. "Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide."

Chlorpyrifos has been used as a pesticide since 1965 on farms and in non-agricultural areas such as golf courses, according to the EPA. However, applications have declined due to state restrictions, reduced production and the development of alternative products, the agency said.

The EPA banned the use of chlorpyrifos in 2015 under President Barack Obama after the agency decided it could not be certain whether exposure to the chemical in food and water would be harmful. But President Donald Trump's EPA reversed the decision and said there was not enough evidence to link exposure to chlorpyrifos to children's health issues.

"EPA is finally following its own findings on this poisonous pesticide," said Allison Johnson, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Last year, California prohibited farmers from using chlorpyrifos products and manufacturers from selling them due to health concerns.

Corteva, the world's largest manufacturer of the chemical, in 2020 said it would stop producing chlorpyrifos because of declining sales.

Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) president and CEO Daren Coppock says he is “extremely disappointed” with the decision to revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos, as the product has been “been an essential tool for growers who need to control insect pests so they can deliver the quality produce consumers expect to grocery shelves.  

“The EPA has been following a time-honored statutory process for the registration review of chlorpyrifos. Farmers, retailers, and the public all benefit from, and have the right to expect, a science-based process for reviews of pesticide products,” he says. “In this case, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has substituted its judgement for the scientific expertise of the Agency and dictated to EPA a demand to revoke tolerances.
“Not only is this an unjustified usurpation of the agency’s authority and expertise, but canceling tolerances for a product that remains registered for use creates uncertainty for users. The product is legal to apply for its registered use, but any residue means that the product that the application protected cannot be sold.

“By issuing this mandate, and EPA not fighting it, anti-pesticide activists have executed an end run around the statute that is supposed to govern these decisions. It’s a disturbing precedent from an Agency publicly committed to science-based decisions.

“Consumers have benefited from a farmer’s ability to control pests and minimize damage to quality that can result without that control. This decision is problematic for this specific tool, but even more troubling is the precedent that may be set.”