Hello friends! Today I’m combining my environmental health science and nutrition backgrounds to chat about pesticides – specifically chlorpyrifos. You may have heard of chlorpyrifos. It’s been the news cycle a lot the past couple of years. Long story short, it was supposed to be banned, and then the ban got delayed, and now we’re still waiting for the ban to go through. But let’s back up – what is chlorpyrifos? Is it dangerous?
What is chlorpyrifos?
Chlorpyrifos is a broad-spectrum, chlorinated organophosphate pesticide (aka a chemical compound) commonly used for pest control on crops, animals, and in buildings. Chlorpyrifos was first introduced by DowDuPoint Chemical Company in 1965, and has a variety of registered food and non-food applications.
Chlorpyrifos is considered the most widely used insecticide in the United States.
Notably, chlorpyrifos is used as a pesticide on a variety of food crops, including many fruits, vegetables, grains, and nut trees.
It also has plenty of non-food uses, such as application to golf course turf, industrial sites, greenhouse production, farms, woods, and is often used in residential pest-control (it’s common in roach and ant bait products). It’s also been used as a public health-based application for mosquito-controls (most often in situations where the benefits of broad application outweigh the risks).
Is Chlopyrifos Dangerous?
Yes, chlorpyrifos can be harmful to human health. How exactly? Bare with me through some long scientific lingo and we’ll get to the facts soon, I promise.
Chlorpyrifos is classified as an organophosphate pesticide. Organophosphates inactivate the enzyme cholinesterase, which is responsible for deactivation of the nerve signaling protein acetylcholine, which leads to a buildup of acetylcholine, which over time causes overactivation of nerve targets, including those of the heart, brain, and digestive system, among others.
Overstimulation of these nerve targets is associated with nausea, dizziness, confusion, loss of muscle control, and death. It’s similar in chemical structure as some of the nerve agents used in WWII. It is considered a neurotoxicant.
Within the past decade, concern has risen about adverse health outcomes associated with chlorpyrifos from not only shorter, higher levels of exposure, but also longer-term lower levels of exposure.
In the early 2000s, scientific evidence began to suggest a link between chlorpyrifos use and a variety of adverse developmental outcomes. Perhaps most famously, researchers from th Child Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health (HUGE shout out to the alma matar!) found prenatal exposure (from residential environments – ie, spraying for bugs and pests) to chlorpyrifos causes structural changes in brain development.
The researchers at Mailman continued to study the chemical at levels of what wound be considered typical to high exposure, and found that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos is associated with deficits in working memory and lower IQ at age 7. Yes, that’s right. This chemical can have long-term cognitive impacts.
CCEH scientists have also shown that exposure to chlorpyrifos is also linked to lower psychomotor developmental index scores, and lower mental development index scores in children, and their research suggests boys may be more vulnerable than girls.…