Maryland Bans Chlorpyrifos Pesticide with Expert Testimony From Prof. Devon Payne-Sturges
March 24, 2020

In the final minutes of a shortened legislative session due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos-- legislation that Devon Payne-Sturges has been pushing for three years. 

Chlorpyrifos, a toxic, nerve-agent pesticide, has been found to damage children’s brain development and poses threats to aquatic life, pollinators and the Chesapeake Bay. 

Payne-Sturges, assistant professor of applied environmental health in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, testified to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in January 2020 in support of the bill. Payne-Sturges worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 12 years and is an expert on how pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, affect children’s health. 

Chlorpyrifos is linked to neurodevelopmental issues, autism and cancer in children, as well as breast cancer in premenopausal women. Payne-Sturges said that exposures to even very low doses of chlorpyrifos during critical windows of pregnancy can result in child cognitive problems and motor delays-- and the effects can be life-long. 

“I believe that this bill is essential to help protect the health of Maryland’s most vulnerable populations, pregnant women and children,” Payne-Sturges told the committee. 

Pregnant women and children living near agricultural fields can be exposed to chlorpyrifos through drift and volatilization. They can also be exposed through residues in fruits, vegetables and drinking water. Payne-Sturges says that children experience greater exposure due to their increased hand-to-mouth action, and relative to adults they eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more, and breathe more. 

After years of study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that chlorpyrifos was unsafe and proposed a rule to ban it in 2015. The Trump Administration killed the proposed rule weeks after taking office. Since then, California, Hawaii and New York have instituted chlorpyrifos bans, as has the European Union.

“States are stepping into the void where the federal government has not acted,” Payne-Sturges said. 

Last month, the Maryland Department of Agriculture announced it would develop regulations to phase out the regular use of the pesticide, but supporters of the legislation say chlorpyrifos must be fully banned as quickly as possible, as the Department of Agriculture does not have financial resources and expertise to develop ways to regulate it. They said the bill-- Senate Bill 300-- provides certainty about when, where and how Maryland would finally ban chlorpyrifos. 

The past two years that Payne-Sturges has pushed the legislation she has run up against opposition from farmers and retailers who sell produce. 

Because of that, Payne-Sturges said the expert panel, including herself, pediatricians, research scientists, and environmental health advocates was influential in the bill’s passage, but testimonies from farmers and retailers were especially influential. Farmers and retailers told the committee that chlorpyrifos wasn’t necessary for farmers to deal with pests, as there were alternative pesticides that were just as effective. 

An amendment to the bill allows the ban to sunset in four years, which advocates say contradicts scientific recommendations that chlorpyrifos be banned for good and which they hope to correct as the bill makes its way through the legislative process.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Clarence Lam, who took over the bill after its previous champion, Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, resigned due to health complications. The House version of the bill (HB 229) was sponsored by Del. Dana Stein. 

The legislation heads next to Gov. Larry Hogan. The ban would take effect Dec. 31, 2020.

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Devon C. Payne-Sturges