August 04, 2020

Udall, Neguse Introduce Landmark Pesticide Reform to Protect Children, Farmworkers and Consumers from Toxic Pesticides

The most comprehensive reform of U.S. pesticide rules in nearly 25 years, new bill would ban organophosphates which harm child brain development and neonicotinoids which lead to pollinator population collapse

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced landmark pesticide reform legislation to prevent the use of toxic pesticides that harm children, farmworkers and consumers in the United States. The Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020 (PACTPA) represents the first comprehensive update since 1996 to the law governing pesticide use in the United States, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  

Each year, the United States uses over a billion pounds of pesticides — nearly a fifth of worldwide use. In 2017 and 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approvedmore than 100 pesticides containing ingredients widely considered to be dangerous. Once approved, pesticides often remain on the market for decades, even when scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows a pesticide is causing harm to people or the environment. Udall and Neguse’s legislation would institute urgently-needed reforms to update protections for children, farmworkers, consumers, and the environment and close dangerous loopholes that prevent adequate pesticide review. 

“Families across the country fill their shopping carts with food every day to feed their families, trusting that American produce and grains are safe to eat. But in many cases, our food is sprayed with pesticides considered highly toxic or dangerous. Our nation’s pesticide laws have not kept up to keep us safe,” Udall said. “The United States sprays a total of over a billion pounds of pesticides each year on the food we feed to our children, exposing them to dangerous chemicals linked to brain damage and diseases like Parkinson’s. The farmworkers who feed our country face dangerous chemical exposure without recourse to protect their health, and surrounding communities bear the frontline costs of pesticide runoff in their land, water, and air – making these communities more susceptible to diseases like COVID-19. And the pollinator communities—bees, butterflies, and other insects—that we depend on to grow our food are collapsing from poisonous insecticides. This bill updates our laws so that they adhere to the science. And the science is warning us that we must protect critical links in our food chain, and protect children and farmworkers from brain damage and other health risks of dangerous pesticides. This legislation represents the first major reform in nearly 25 years to how we regulate pesticides, and it is urgently needed. It is long past time for the United States Congress to turn attention to this issue and put the health and safety of our families above the profits of large corporations.”

“The use of harmful pesticides on everything from our crops to our front yards has become all too common place, putting American farmworkers and young children at immense risk of harmful health impacts. For far too long highly toxic pesticides have gone unregulated as the EPA has put the interests of the pesticide industry above the health and safety of people and our environment,” said Neguse. “We are fortunate to have throughout the 2nd District some of our nation’s top experts in the environment’s delicate and intricate systems, including organic and regenerative agriculture. For years these experts have been warning us of the dangers posed by the existing and largely profit-driven regulatory and oversight system. It is the responsibility of Congress to listen to the science and these experts, and enact this landmark pesticide reform. I’m proud to introduce the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act with Senator Udall today, which bans the most harmful pesticides and sets forth regulations to ensure safe registration practices for the sake of Coloradans’ health, the safety of agricultural workers and the protection of our environment. As Coloradans and all Americans purchase food, prepare meals for their family and as agricultural workers head to work, they deserve to know their health and safety are not in jeopardy and they are not at risk to harmful toxins. This reform is long overdue and urgently needed. We must get it done.”

The Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020 would: 

Ban some of the most damaging pesticides:

- Organophosphate insecticides, which are designed to target the neurological system and have been linked to neurodevelopmental damage in children;
- Neonicotinoid insecticides, which have contributed to pollinator collapse around the world (the European Union and Canada have significantly restricted or banned their use to protect pollinators and other wildlife) and have recently been shown to cause developmental defects, heart deformations, and muscle tremors in unborn children;
- Paraquat, which is one of the most acutely toxic herbicides in the world, according to the EPA, just "one sip can kill." Science has shown that chronic exposure to paraquat increases risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 200% to 600%. It is already banned in 32 countries, including the European Union

Restore balance to protect ordinary citizens by:

- Creating a petition process to enable individual citizens to petition the EPA to identify dangerous pesticides so that the EPA would no longer be able to indefinitely allow dangerous pesticides to remain on the market;
- Closing dangerous loopholes that have allowed the EPA to issue emergency exemptions and conditional registrations to use pesticides before they have gone through full health and safety review by the agency; 
- Enabling local communities to enact protective legislation and other policies without being vetoed or preempted by state law;
- Suspending the use of pesticides deemed unsafe by the E.U. or Canada until they are thoroughly reviewed by the EPA. 

Provide protections for frontline communities that bear the burden of pesticide exposure by:

- Requiring employers of farmworkers to report all pesticide-caused injuries to the EPA, with strong penalties for failure to report injuries or retaliating against workers;
- Directing the EPA to review pesticide injury reports and work with the pesticide manufacturers to develop better labeling to prevent future injury;
- Requiring that all pesticide label instructions be written in Spanish and in any language spoken by more than 500 pesticide applicators. 

This bill is also sponsored by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.). In the House, the bill is sponsored by U.S. Representatives Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

The full text of the legislation can be found HERE. A summary and extensive background materials can be found HERE.

“For too long children, farmworkers and countless others have been harmed by dangerous pesticides, including many banned in other countries,” said Emily Knobbe, EPA policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These long overdue, common-sense reforms will finally ensure that industry profit no longer comes before people’s health or our environment.”

“Exposure to paraquat increases risk for Parkinson’s disease — as well as causes lung damage and other issues — so this herbicide must be banned,” said Todd Sherer, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. “An estimated one million Americans live with Parkinson’s, and it is irresponsible to continue allowing a chemical on the market that is a known contributor to developing this neurodegenerative disease. In addition to the human toll, Parkinson’s costs our country $52 billion every year, and more than $25 billion of that is shouldered by government programs like Medicare and Social Security. Banning paraquat will reduce the number of people who develop Parkinson’s and ease the economic burden.” 

“Farmworkers are routinely exposed to high levels of pesticides in the fields where they work and the communities where they live,” said Iris Figueroa, a senior staff attorney at Farmworker Justice. “Ensuring that pesticide labels can actually be understood by the workers’ applying these products is a basic yet essential step for mitigating exposure risk. Additionally, the enforcement of existing safety standards is hindered by the current lack of transparency regarding pesticide exposure incidents, as well as workers’ fear of retaliation if they speak up about safety violations. The reforms in this bill provide long-overdue protections for the workers who provide our food, facing significant risks to their own health as they do so.” 

“No parent should ever have to worry that the act of hugging their children after a long day of work or living in an agricultural community could expose them to brain-harming chemicals,” said Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers. “While farm workers and agricultural communities are at the frontlines of exposure to harmful pesticides, the exposure extends to consumers who unknowingly feed their families food with residues of nerve agents. For our union, at the heart of the fight against harmful pesticides are countless incidents of workers who have experienced pesticide poisoning and parents whose children are dealing with learning disabilities and other health impairments. The Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act recognizes that children, farm workers and consumers deserve better and puts an end to the use of chlorpyrifos and other nerve agents in our food.” 

“We can no longer allow chlorpyrifos and other toxic chemicals to damage the health of those who nourish this country every day,” said Diana Tellefson Torres, executive director of UFW Foundation. “The Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act recognizes the moral imperative to protect the health of our children and the nation’s essential farmworkers from nerve agents. As an organization that serves communities in leading agricultural regions of the nation, our we applaud Sen. Udall and Rep. Neguse for introducing this important bill.”

“When Americans go to the store, they expect that the food they’re buying for themselves and their families is safe; as a parent of two young children, this is something at the top of my mind,” said Daniel Savery, Senior Legislative Representative for Earthjustice. “We also expect that farmworkers – the essential employees working through the global coronavirus pandemic, without whom that food would not be on those store shelves – that they and their families are safe. The Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act says what we all know to be true: that nerve agents have no place on our food, in our workplaces, and in our communities. This bill also recognizes that the agriculture industry is harmed by the loss of vital pollinator species. Earthjustice is grateful for the leadership of Senator Udall and Representative Neguse and we stand with our farmworker partners in support of this bill.”