Chlorpyrifos – Demon Pesticide or Demonized?

A pesticide has hit the news this week, although these issues are always rumbling away in the background long before they hit the mainstream media (which includes Facebook and Twitter, of course).

Chlorpyrifos was the subject of a petition which activists had hoped would allow the substance to be banned by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) of the US  in 2017, however the EPA decided to disregard it. The EPA had taken measures over the past decade to steadily decrease the level of use of the substance due to concerns over the effect on Human and environmental health.

If you want to find out the data on effects on health you can look them up – they are widely available and easy to understand. In short, however I can tell you it is completely safe, provided you NEVER come into contact with it.

It is an organophosphate pesticide, one of a class of substances which include chemical warfare or nerve agents. The pesticide works primarily by inhibiting the function of a major neurotransmitter, acetylcholine.

Similar organophosphate pesticides have been implicated in causing fatal depression in sheep farmers (who are exposed via Sheep-dip),  and potentially in the development of Parkinson’s Disease . All organophosphates are believed to work using the same basic mechanism.

Although the effects of an acute poisoning may wear off over time (as the body replaces the acetylcholinesterase enzymes irreversibly damaged by the substance), longer term effects have also been observed. The concern that many people have is the widespread chronic exposure that we all have to this and the many similar pesticides used. Residues are commonly found in drinking water, foods, and human excretions, suggesting that we are all routinely exposed to low levels of these potent nerve agents.

Chlorpyrifos is one of many pesticides used in the war against pests – and believe me, it IS a war. The Human population is still undergoing rapid growth, and our crops are more vulnerable than ever.  No doubt, we need to protect our crops and our lives. But at what cost?


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