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This article is part of the Food Rights Network, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Find out more here.

Chlorpyrifos, first used as a nerve gas in World War II, has most recently been used as an indoor and outdoor pesticide manufactured and sold by Dow Chemical.

Banned for Home Use

In 1963, Dow AgroSciences began manufacturing chlorpyrifos under the name Dursban, a product mainly used as a means of controlling cockroach populations in homes. Dursban was banned by the EPA in 2000, citing it as a neurological toxin that was unsafe to children's health. It was the third organophosphate that the EPA banned from consumer use.[1]

Restricted Use on Agricultural Crops

The chemical was only banned from over-the-counter products; farmers still have access to the pesticide for their crops, and it is commonly sprayed on corn, oranges, grapes, almonds and other crops. In July 2012, the EPA announced new restrictions on the use of chlorpyrifos as a result of legal action by a coalition of environmental groups including Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to PANNA, the new restrictions include:

  • "Reduced pesticide applications — the agency negotiated an agreement with industry to reduce the maximum amount of pesticide that can be applied per acre for aerial applications from 6 pounds/acre to 2 pounds/acre.
  • "Larger buffer zones — the new protections include no-spray buffer zones near sensitive sites, from 10 feet up to a maximum of 100 feet.
  • "Better protection areas for the most sensitive — the new protection areas include places children live and play, whether they are present at the time of application or not. However, the new protections do not include any consideration of farmworkers working in adjacent fields."

But they do not address volatilization drift -- "the evaporation of the pesticide after application."[2][3]

Adverse Health Effects

The agricultural product, labeled Lorsban by Dow, is just as toxic and is having adverse health effects on farmers and their children around the world.

A 2012 Columbia University study published in Neurotoxicology and Teratology found that boys who are exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb experience a greater detriment in "working memory" than girls who are exposed prenatally.[4] “There’s mounting evidence now from epidemiological studies that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides, and chlorpyrifos in particular, may be associated with detriments with IQ in children,” said Kim Harley, an environmental epidemiologist with the University of California, Berkeley.[5] According to Environmental Health News:

"Previous research has shown that low to moderate exposure to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy can lead to irreversible changes in a child’s brain. According to a 2012 study of the New York City children, magnetic resonance imaging of 40 children, from about 6 to 11 years old, found that those with high exposures had more abnormalities in regions of the brain associated with memory.[6] They also were significantly more likely than children exposed to low levels to experience attention problems and delays in cognitive and motor skills.[7]"[5]

Because pesticide use is not legally required to be reported, chlorpyrifos is used without being federally monitored.

In an effort to prove that their chemical does not have the extreme impacts on children, Dow has performed unethical tests and hidden the results from consumers, according to the Attorney General of New York. According to Dow, the EPA's report that 92% of children and 82% of adults showed traces of the chemical has a "tremendous number of errors and omissions".[8] In 2003, Dow was sued by the Attorney General of New York, resulting in payments of $2 million dollars for advertising their product as safe, 8 years after a $732,000 fine for failing to report results of toxicity studies of their products to the EPA.[9] They have also done human testing on 60 paid people in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1998, paying them to swallow the tablets covered in chlorpyrifos.[10]

Other Health Effects

  • blurred vision
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • memory loss
  • carcinogenicity
  • reproductive/developmental problems
  • birth defects[11]

Other Articles and Resources

SourceWatch articles

External resources



  1. David Brown, Joby Warrick, "EPA Increases Risk Estimate Of a Pesticide; Agency Decision Effectively Bans Dursban From Stores," Washington Post, June 1, 2000
  2. Pesticide Action Network of North American, [the evaporation of the pesticide after application EPA Takes “Big Step” on Brain Toxin: Agency proposes new protections for rural communities from chlorpyrifos, but keeps pesticide on the market], organizational press release, July 18, 2012
  3. Stephen P. Bradbury, PhD, Director, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Re: Chlorpyrifos petition dated September 12, 2007, agency partial response to petition by NRDC and PANNA requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for the insecticide chlorpyrifos, July 16, 2012
  4. Megan K. Hortona, Linda G. Kahna, Frederica Pererab, Dana Boyd Barrc, and Virginia Rauhd, Does the home environment and the sex of the child modify the adverse effects of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos on child working memory?, Neurotoxicology and Teratology, July 21, 2012 (in press, uncorrected proof)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Brett Israel, Widely used pesticide seems to harm boys' brains more than girls', Environmental Health News, August 20, 2012
  6. Rauh VA, Perera FP, Horton MK, Whyatt RM, Bansal R, Hao X, Liu J, Barr DB, Slotkin TA, Peterson BS, Brain anomalies in children exposed prenatally to a common organophosphate pesticide, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online (U.S.), May 15, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 20), pp. 7871-6, published online April 30, 2012
  7. Virginia A. Rauh, ScD, Robin Garfinkel, PhD, Frederica P. Perera, DrPH, Howard F. Andrews, PhD, Lori Hoepner, MPH, Dana B. Barr, PhD, DLS, Ralph Whitehead, MPH, Deliang Tang, DrPH, Robin W. Whyatt, DrPH, Impact of Prenatal Chlorpyrifos Exposure on Neurodevelopment in the First 3 Years of Life Among Inner-City Children, Pediatrics (Vol. 118, No. 6), December 2006
  8. Cat Lazaroff, "Common Insecticide Found Highly Risky in New Review," Environment News Service, 1999.
  9. "U.S. Will Use Once-Banned Human Tests," International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal 2005.
  10. Elizabeth Shogren, "U.S. Will Use Once-Banned Human Tests," Common Dreams, November 27, 2001
  11. "U.S. Will Use Once-Banned Human Tests," International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal 2005.