ANNAPOLIS — The state Senate will consider a bill to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos more than two weeks after a majority in the House of Delegates approved a prohibition on its use statewide.
Chlorpyrifos has become a source of federal and state scrutiny, following a long legal battle in federal court and the publication of conflicting studies of the toxicity of the chemical even in very small doses. The House of Delegates voted 90-44 on March 15 to ban the product statewide, siding with research that shows it is a neurodevelopment toxin in young children.
On Friday, the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee too voted in favor of the bill, which will advance to the full Senate next week. Opponents asked the state to leave the decision to the federal government.
“Waiting for the feds is not always the answer,” committee chairman Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said Friday.
The ban is scheduled to take effect on Dec. 31, 2020, which is a year later than advocates wanted in the original bill. The House of Delegates also added a waiver system to the bill, which will enable the Maryland Department of Agriculture to allow those who can prove they have no alternative to chlorpyrifos to continue to spray or use seeds treated with it until 2022.
“It extends the doomsday for two additional years,” said Colby Ferguson, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau.
The Farm Bureau opposes the proposed ban of chlorpyrifos and said it would set a bad precedent for Maryland to ban a farm product ahead of the federal government, which controls the labeling and use of pesticides. Ferguson said the ban would also not prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos for the cultivation of food that is shipped into Maryland, which could put local farmers at a competitive disadvantage.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture, which will implement the waiver program if the bill passes, has not taken a position on the bill. As a policy, the agency does not comment on pending legislation outside of its official testimony to state committees, said Jason Schellhardt, a spokesman for the department.
Sen. Jason Gallion (R-Harford and Cecil), who is a full-time farmer when the Senate is not in session, sought to amend the bill on Friday. He proposed striking the bill in its entirety to instead require a study of the effects of a ban on Maryland’s environment, agriculture and economy. The study would be due to the governor and General Assembly on July 1, 2020.
The committee voted down Gallion’s amendment 7-4. The committee cast the same vote in opposition to Gallion’s second proposal to extend the waiver date from 2022 to 2030.
“It’s an awful big step when you go to ban something that’s used,” Gallion said.
Chlorpyrifos have been in use since 1965, but its makers voluntarily entered into an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2000 to remove its household uses from the label. The pesticide is still used in agriculture and on turf grass — such as on golf courses — to control pests.
In high doses, it can overstimulate the nervous system, causing nausea, dizziness and confusion, according to the EPA. There is also a growing body of evidence that it can have negative health effects on children.
“It’s never used in a widespread manner that hurts children. If it was, I’d obviously be opposed to it,” said Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick and Carroll), who voted in opposition to the ban.
Cox planned to propose an amendment to the bill when it was considered by the House. However, the amendment and at least three others were not recognized by the chamber.
Cox said he spoke with local beekeepers and read recent findings from the EPA and gleaned from both that its continued use was safe. Cox has not read the 2014 or 2016 Revised Human Health Assessments often mentioned by advocates of the ban, though he is aware of the documents, he said.
Experts who have read the EPA’s Revised Human Health Assessments have been left with a different interpretation.
Devon Payne-Sturges is a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employee who managed the agency’s portfolio of research done to evaluate child and prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos. She is now an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Based on her reading of the 2016 report, chlorpyrifos is unsafe for children ages 1 and 2 and women of child-bearing age, and there are no safe levels in drinking water.
She supported a complete ban of chlorpyrifos in Maryland.
The vote in favor of the ban in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee was close and passed by a margin of one vote, 6-5. Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick) was among those on the committee to vote in support of the ban.
Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) explained to the committee that he voted against the ban because chemicals are essential to farmers and for farms to be able to produce enough food for people to eat.
However, his colleague on the committee, Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard), defended the vote to ban the chemical as a targeted solution to a larger problem.
“We’re not trying to ban all pesticides and pesticide use. It’s just that this one, in particular, poses so much potential for danger or harm or risk that it is identified by the federal EPA as one that really should just be banned outright from use,” Lam said.