Hawaii has become the first U.S. state to ban the use of pesticides containing chlorpyrifos, a widely-used chemical that’s been linked to severe developmental delays in children and other health risks.
The state’s decision came more than a year after the Trump administration denied a petition to ban the controversial pesticide.
Gov. David Ige (D) signed Senate Bill 3095 into law on Wednesday after it was unanimously approved by the state legislature. Under the new law, pesticides containing chlorpyrifos will be prohibited across Hawaii starting on Jan. 1, 2019. However, businesses will be allowed to apply for a three-year extension to adjust to the new guidelines.
The law also prohibits the spraying of pesticides within 100 feet of schools during normal school hours. Users of pesticides containing chlorpyrifos or other restricted chemicals will additionally be required to report annually to the state Department of Agriculture.
“This was a law that was years in the making. Its time had come.” Sen. Russell Ruderman (D-Puna, Ka’u), one of the bill’s sponsors, told The Garden Island newspaper last month.
“We have been guided by the belief that we must always put our keiki first,” Ruderman added, using a Hawaiian word for children. “On that we should all agree.”
Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxin that’s been linked to serious health risks in both children and adults. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, exposure to small amounts of the chemical can cause drooling, headaches and nausea. Prolonged exposure can lead to vomiting, tremors, unconsciousness and paralysis, among other effects.
Studies have shown a link between prenatal exposure to the chemical and developmental issues in children, like reduced IQ, attention disorders and working memory problems. Farm workers who have been exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos have also been found to be at higher risk of lung cancer and immune disorders than those who have not worked with the pesticide.
Despite these potential health hazards, chlorpyrifos continues to be widely used in agriculture in the United States. Citing federal data, CNN reported last year that chlorpyrifos ― going by pounds of active ingredient ― was the most commonly applied conventional insecticide in the country.
The chemical is sprayed on many food crops, including corn, apples, strawberries, cauliflower, citrus and walnuts; it’s also used on golf courses and to treat wood fences and utility poles.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been mulling the risks of chlorpyrifos for decades. In 2001, the agency banned nearly all indoor use of the chemical. In more recent years, EPA scientists have recommended the pesticide be banned altogether.
Yet, despite the agency’s own research showing that children in some parts of the country were being exposed to unsafe levels of the chemical in drinking water and that residues of chlorpyrifos on food crops exceeded federal safety standards, the EPA refused to ban the pesticide.
Last March, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt denied a petition to ban chlorpyrifos that was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America. Pruitt said there was still “considerable areas of uncertainty” about the health impacts of the pesticide and that more research was needed.
This week, the NRDC hailed Hawaii’s chlorpyrifos ban as a “win for public health.”
“Hawaii is showing the Trump administration that the states will stand up for our kids, even when Washington will not,” Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist at the organization, said in a statement.
According to Buzzfeed, California, Maryland and New Jersey have also considered statewide bans of chlorpyrifos since Pruitt took office in 2017.