A California Senate bill calling for a complete ban on the broad-spectrum pesticide chlorpyrifos passed the Health committee yesterday by a vote of 5-1, with three members abstaining, and will now be heard in the committee for Environmental Quality.

The hearing was heavy on science from both ends of the argument and brought up questions over the separation of powers between the legislature and regulatory agencies. 

The bill’s author, Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, was concerned about the impacts of brain development among children in her district. She also posed the bill as a resistance against the Trump administration, which had “contradicted the overwhelming scientific evidence” by refusing to finalize a ban on chlorpyrifos through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Durazo cited four epidemiological studies—two of those involving agricultural use—that found traces of chemicals presumed to be chlorpyrifos in children, infants and pregnant women. 

Testifying on behalf of the bill was the senior author for one of those studies, Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a UC Davis epidemiologist specializing in autism. 

“Now there are over three dozen studies that have demonstrated this link between prenatal exposure and overwhelmingly have shown the outcomes of lower IQ and the impairments of learning, as well as symptoms of autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit disorder,” she said. 

In opposition to Picciotto and the bill was Dr. Carol Burns, an epidemiologist retired from Dow Chemical. She said that the studies came before new regulations began restricting chlorpyrifos use in California about 20 years ago. She pointed out that two of the studies involved indoor applications and that chlorpyrifos is only allowed now in the use of agriculture and by certified applicators. 

Burns also said the exposure in the animal studies mentioned by the proponents were millions of times higher than anything found in humans, adding that new technology has also allowed much more refined detection for discovering increasingly tiny amounts. 

Burns spent much of her time explaining the evaluation processes for the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta, said he was dismayed that an official from DPR was not at the hearing. 

Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, abstained from the vote, saying she was conflicted over which side better represented her agricultural district and that neither had answered her questions. Hurtado listed those questions, which ranged from whether jobs are lined up for the farmworkers who may lose their jobs from the ban to what’s taking so long for DPR to complete the chlorpyrifos evaluations.

“We do need the regulatory process to go and weigh in, and have the opportunity for the science to be analyzed,” concluded Committee Chair Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, adding: “If we think the regulatory process isn't rigorous enough, we can certainly pass laws to change that.”

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