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The world’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, an agricultural pesticide linked to brain damage in children, has announced that it will stop producing the chemical by the end of the year.
The announcement on Thursday by Corteva, the corporation formed from a Dow Chemical and DuPont merger, comes after the Trump administration reversed regulatory plans to ban the pesticide and rejected the scientific conclusions of US government experts.
Chlorpyrifos has been widely used on corn, soybeans, almonds, citrus, cotton, grapes, walnuts and other crops, but research has repeatedly found serious health effects in children, including impaired brain development. Environmental groups have long advocated for its ban, and the state of California, which grows the majority of the nation’s fruits and nuts, defied Trump and banned the chemical last year.
Corteva said it was ending production due to declining sales. Susanne Wasson, the president of Corteva’s crop protection business, told Reuters it was a “difficult decision”.
Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxic chemical that was found to be harmful enough to humans that the US banned it from residential use in 2000. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, has continued to defend its safety for agricultural uses.
In California’s Central Valley, the heart of the agricultural industry, researchers raised concerns about impacts on pregnant women who lived near farms that sprayed chlorpyrifos. Some studies found low to moderate levels of exposure during pregnancy were linked to memory problems and lower IQ.
Marisa Ordonia, an attorney with Earthjustice, a group that has sued the EPA for failing to ban chlorpyrifos, said advocates would still seek a ban on the product given that it remains on the market through other manufacturers.
“Other people are going to continue to profit from harming children,” she said, adding: “It is big that such a major player is saying no, we’re not going to do this any more. It’s a great signal that people don’t want brain-damaging pesticides on their food. But we’re going to continue to keep fighting to make sure children and farmworkers are protected.”
In the US, Corteva’s biggest market for chlorpyrifos, demand is less than 20% of what it was during its peak in the 1990s, the company said. Industry sales were $350m in 2005, down 45% from 1990, according to Corteva, which sells chlorpyrifos under the Lorsban brand.
By weight, estimated use dropped to under 5m pounds in 2016 from about 13m pounds in 1994, according to US Geological Survey data.
Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement that the Corteva announcement meant “the end of chlorpyrifos is finally in sight”.
“Ridding the American marketplace of this pesticide is a huge step, but it cannot be allowed to continue to threaten the health of kids in other global markets,” she added.
Reuters contributed reporting