Lawsuit Hopes to Ban Dangerous Dursban


Highly toxic Dursban, also known as chlorpyrifos, is an organophosphate pesticide that was extensively used in the U.S. until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) woke up and banned the nerve toxin for various uses in 2000. Prior to that decision, Dursban was the most popular household pesticide in the U.S. and was found in over 800 products.

Before then, Dursban’s manufacturer, Dow Chemical Company, claimed and marketed the dangerous pesticide as a safe means of eliminating unwanted household critters even though they knew otherwise. Unfortunately, millions of children were unknowingly exposed to its virulent effects during that time. One sampling of American children revealed that more than 90 percent of the study group had chlorpyrifos in their urine.

Now, two groups have gone to court hoping to totally eliminate chlorpyrifos, which is still widely used in agriculture under the name Lorsban. According to the lawsuit, chlorpyrifos is toxic to humans and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, muscle spasms, dizziness, seizures and paralysis.

The complaint was filed in New York state by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America. The two organizations want to force the EPA to act on a three-year-old petition to pull the debated chemical from the market. EarthJustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the two groups.

“This dangerous pesticide has no place in our fields, near our children, or on our food,” stated Earthjustice attorney Kevin Regan.“We’re asking a court to rule so that EPA will finish the job and ban this poison.”

Exposure to the noxious chemical from skin contact, inhalation or ingestion affects the central nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Poison will attack the central nervous system, resulting in lack of coordination, slurred speech, loss of reflexes, weakness, fatigue, muscle contractions, twitching, tremors of the tongue or eyelids and eventually paralysis of body extremities and respiratory muscles. Respiratory failure or cardiac arrest could be fatal.

Dow Chemical has faced allegations that it withheld information about Dursban’s risks, and unethically marketed it as a safe pesticide, despite knowing it was an injurious product. Fifteen years ago, Dow was fined $732,000 for not sending the EPA its reports on 249 Dursban poisoning incidents.

Various other countries have nixed the use of chlorpyrifos such as South Africa this past spring. However, it is still commonly used as an insecticide on cotton, apples, grapes, oranges, almonds, corn and other crops in the U.S. It also is found on golf courses and used as a pest preventative in urban areas.

In June 2000, the EPA reached an agreement with Dow Chemical to ban most home and garden uses of Dursban, citing health risks to children and the directive also restricted its use in agriculture. The agency required that Dursban be phased out in areas where children would likely be exposed  such as schools, daycare centers, parks and recreation areas, stores and malls.

However, during the phase out, the pesticide was allowed to remain on store shelves until stock was depleted. As a result, people continued buying those products, oblivious to their health risks. How many children have been poisoned by Dursban for failure to remove from those shelves?

Dow agreed to pay $2 million in 2003 to the state of New York, which was the largest penalty ever in a pesticide case. The state had filed against Dow for repeatedly violating a 1994 agreement outlawing advertising that falsely promoted the safety of its pesticides. But soon after, Dow once again started to tout safety claims in all its advertising.