Minnesota farmers depend on chlorpyrifos, but dozens of studies say it harms kids.
Farmers across the country were relieved last March when the Trump administration reversed a decision to take a widely used agricultural insecticide off the market.
Without it, said Sleepy Eye farmer Cole Trebesch, he probably wouldn’t even try growing soybeans.
But Bonnie Wirtz, who ended up in the emergency room six years ago after a crop duster sprayed the chemical over her Melrose, Minn., home, finds it heartbreaking that the government will still allow the sale of an insecticide that dozens of scientific studies have found toxic to children.
“If I almost died, then what is the long-term impact for my child?” she said. Her son, who was an infant at the time, now has a neurodevelopmental disorder, one of the health risks that inspired the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose a ban in the first place.
Nowhere in the country will the government’s reversal be felt more profoundly than in Minnesota. The chemical, chlorpyrifos, is already the largest selling insecticide in the state — farmers spread almost a million pounds of it last year across Minnesota lands — and is likely to remain the primary weapon in their battle against insects. That’s especially true for soybeans, Minnesota’s second-leading commodity, which is increasingly vulnerable to an invasive aphid that is becoming resistant to other chemicals.
“They can take a third of your yield away,” said Trebesch. “That’s your profitability.”
Even though farmers must follow strict rules in applying chlorpyrifos, it is nonetheless polluting the state’s waters. About 10 of Minnesota’s lakes and streams are or soon will be listed by state regulators as impaired by chlorpyrifos, a number that could grow. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has named it one of three “pesticides of concern” because of its powerful toxicity to wildlife.