PMRA delays deciding on chlorpyrifos, then delays ban for 3 years. Safe Food Matters and Prevent Cancer Now bring Court challenge.

A Health Canada agency is delaying the cancellation of the dangerous chemical, thereby exposing Canadians to continued harm.  Chlorpyrifos is a hazardous neurotoxic pesticide, known for permanently damaging the brains of developing children.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) didn’t cancel the chemical back in 2007 when it learned of the dangerous health risks, and it issued a cancellation statement only in May, 2021 – which allows continued “phase-out” use for another 3 years. The sales of this pesticide are consistently in the top 10 in Canada, so the quantities are significant.

Between 2007 and 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published several human health risk assessments, linking chlorpyrifos to adverse neurodevelopmental effects. The PMRA said it would follow the EPA documents “in detail” and reassess them in the Canadian context.  But it did not. It sat on the sidelines while the US story played itself out, allowing the dangerous chemical to stay registered in Canada for years. 

In 2016, the EPA issued its human health evaluation and was set to ban the chemical, until Trump took office.  Trump’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course in March 2017 and allowed for continued use. Dow Chemical, an original manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, contributed USD 1 Million to Trump’s inauguration committee.

One of the first statements made by President Biden was to take a hard look at this chemical, and on April 29, 2021 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals forced the cancellation decision in the US courts, tearing a strip off the EPA for its delay, saying “the EPA’s time is now up”. Europe banned chlorpyrifos in 2019 because there was no safe level, allowing a three-month “grace period” to clear stocks.

The PMRA last assessed health risks in 2003 (“Proposed Acceptability for Continued Registration”), and its December 10, 2020 environmental risk decision allowed for continued use to spray mosquitos, elm and mountain pine trees, and indoors and around residential structures. In the December document, the PMRA said it would be updating its human health risk assessment. Two notices of objection to the 2020 environmental assessment were filed on February 8, 2021.

Two days later, on February 10, 2021, the PMRA issued a “data call” to companies who had registered the product (requesting data that was decades old).  The companies did not respond, and the PMRA used this technicality to issue its cancellation statement: one month after the US court decision.  The PMRA does not intend to respond to the two objections, one filed by a collection of 10 groups, and the second filed by the Centre for Health, Science and Law.

The cancellation statement isn’t really a cancellation, though. It’s a cancellation “in a few years”.  It allows for continued use for all chlorpyrifos uses/ products until December 10, 2023. No explanation or legal justification for the thee-year delay following the December, 2020 environmental decision is provided. No acknowledgement of the risks of chlorpyrifos is mentioned.

Safe Food Matters Inc. and Prevent Cancer Now think a cancellation should be a cancellation “now” or “in a few months” (like in Europe):  not “in a few of years”.  They think the Pest Control Products Act supports their position. The primary purpose of the Act is to prevent unacceptable risks to Canadians and the environment; not to protract unacceptable risks for long “phase-out” periods.

They filed a Notice of Application in Federal Court on June 14, 2021, asking for a review of the cancellation decision.  Ecojustice, a national environmental law charity, is helping provide a legal team of lawyers to assist on the case.

Safe Food Matters Inc. is a Canadian non-profit corporation, engaged in policy issues on pesticides and crop production technologies that harm Canadians and the environment.  It is the only group taking Health Canada to Court over the continued registration of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. It would like to see increased resources for the regulator so it can perform adequate and timely risk assessments independent of corporate influence and reliance on the US process. Contact: Mary Lou McDonald, LL.B.,

Prevent Cancer Now is a Canadian science-based non-profit group that aims to stop cancer before it starts, including by eliminating adverse exposures that contribute to development of cancer. Prevent Cancer Now advocates for stronger science for regulation, legal reform, and use of least-toxic approaches, including for pest control. Contact: Meg Sears, PhD, 613 297-6042

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