By: Melanie Forti, Program Director 

We all know that pesticides can be dangerous to our health and even deadly if not taken the proper precautions when applying or surrounded by it.  According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the US each year while approximately 5.6 billion pounds are used worldwide.  As a result, every year about 25 million agricultural workers worldwide experience pesticide exposure and pesticide poisonings.


Pesticides are grouped according to the types of pest they affect or impact.  They are divided in the following groups: insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, germicides, fungicides, larvicides.  Organophosphate belongs to the insecticides group used to kill many types of insects, and is extremely harmful to the nervous system.  It was developed as nerve agents in World War II and then it was adapted for use as insecticides after the war.  Since 1965 it has been used mainly on corn, as well as fruit and nut trees, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, broccoli, and cauliflower crops.  It’s also used on golf courses, turf, green houses, and on non-structural wood treatments.

Farmworkers health is mostly endangered due to pesticide exposure.  Commonly when agricultural workers have a pesticide poisoning is because they have become exposed to chlorpyriphos. Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate first registered as an insecticide in 1965 and re-registered in 2006.  It is used to control many kinds of pests indoor and outdoor such as fleas, termites, mosquitoes, and roundworms.

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that exposure to chlorpyrifos puts agricultural workers at risk by stimulating their nervous system causing nausea, dizziness, confusion, respiratory paralysis and death. The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) states that signs and symptoms can appear within minutes to hours after exposure. These effects can last for days or even weeks. Due to the amount of health issues reported, EPA banned the use of Chlorpyrifos for use in homes and home gardens in 2000.

Like any other pesticide, Chlorpyrifos can be harmful if touched, inhaled, or eaten. Chlorpyrifos block an enzyme that controls messages that travel among nerve cells. With blocked enzyme, the nervous system cannot send normal signals. As a result it causes the nervous system to breakdown and kills the pest.

It was also determined by the EPA the potential health risks of drinking water that comes from small water systems in agricultural areas where chlorpyrifos are used heavily. It is no surprise that if chlorpyrifos was developed as a nerve agent it would have harmful impact on people who come into contact with it.

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EPA initiated an action plan to address health and environmental risk from chlorpyrifos exposure.  These are the restrictions implemented so far:

  • June 2000 elimination of all homeowner uses, except ant and roach baits in child resistant packaging and fire ant mound treatments. In addition, termiticide uses were phased out.
  • 2000, EPA required that all uses of chlorpyrifos products in the U.S. be discontinued on tomatoes. Use on apples was restricted to pre-bloom and dormant application. The grape tolerance was lowered to reflect the labeled dormant application.
  • In 2002, EPA limited the use of chlorpyrifos on citrus and tree nuts as well other crops. Also, further limited the use of chlorpyrifos by significantly lowering pesticide application rates and creating “no-spray” buffer zones around public spaces, including recreational areas and homes.
  • October 30, 2015, EPA issued a proposal to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances. Learn about the proposal and read the Federal Register notice.

Although EPA has taken action, there is still much more to do to protect our farmworkers, our families, and our environment.  In the meantime, AFOP Health & Safety trainers will continue providing pesticide safety training to farmworkers and their families in order to help them have a safer and healthier life.