The Legislature is pressing ahead with a measure to ban a pesticide linked to potential harmful health effects in humans, but which the federal government backed off prohibiting its use earlier this year.
The decision by new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to reject a ban on the use of chlorpyrifos this spring, reversed a recommendation of the agency’s scientists had made during the Obama administration.
The dispute is one of several arising out of an abrupt change in the direction of environmental policies taken by the Trump administration, a shift lawmakers and conservationists have vowed to fight vigorously at the state level.
Chlorpyrifos is a widely employed insecticide used for decades on a variety of crops like apples, grapes, and soybeans. Numerous studies have shown it can cause developmental problems in children, as well as nausea and other ailments in adults.
In deciding not to ban the compound, Pruitt cited uncertainty about the neurodevelopmental effects of early-life exposure to the pesticide. Manufacturers voluntarily phased the compound out of residential use in 2001 under an agreement with the EPA.
In May, shortly after the decision was announced, dozens of farmworkers in California became sick, suffering dizziness and vomiting after the pesticide was sprayed on an orchard and drifted into a field where they were working.
The New Jersey ban on the use of the insecticide drew opposition from the New Jersey Farm Bureau’s Rick Suydam, its president, who called the insecticide a valuable tool in crop production.
“When used by licensed applicators in proper weather condition, it’s safe,’’ said Suydam, a farmer in Somerset County and a licensed applicator. He defended the EPA action. “They’re keeping on top of this. The EPA is doing their job. To ban it here would put New Jersey farmers at disadvantage with those in other states.’’
But Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), the chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee and sponsor of the bill, argued that his fear is that the head of the new EPA administration is “someone who is anti-science.’’
Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, agreed. “The science is very clear,’’ he said. “This is where New Jersey needs to take a leadership role.’’
Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) introduced at the last legislative session an identical bill to (A-4794), already approved by the Assembly committee in May.
Chlorpyrifos, manufactured by Dow Agrosciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, is effective against a wide range of insects harmful to crops.