Pressure is growing for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would ban the use of chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide.

The scientific evidence on the harms of chlorpyrifos is overwhelming and irrefutable. On Friday, the European Union acted to ban sales of chlorpyrifos beginning in 2020, after the European Food Safety Authority concluded that no amount of chlorpyrifos exposure was safe. The pesticide has been linked to reduced IQ and learning disabilities in children, as well as cancer, and Parkinson’s disease in adults.  

“Sara” (left) and “Susana,” 16-year-old twin sisters who worked together on tobacco farms in 2015, sit in their bedroom in the clothes they wear to try to protect themselves in tobacco fields. They described working near areas where pesticides were being applied. Susana said, “We are just working … and the worker is on the tractor spraying almost very close to us. But they don’t take us out of that area. They don’t even warn us that it is dangerous. Nothing. We are just working and we cover ourselves well because the smell is very strong, and we get sick with the smell of that spray.” Sara said, “I feel dizzy, very dizzy because the smell is unbearable. It’s very strong and my stomach begins to feel stirred. I feel as if I am going to faint right then and there from the smell.”

© 2015 Benedict Evans for Human Rights Watch

This week, the NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, representing over 5,000 pediatricians across the state, called on Cuomo to sign the chlorpyrifos bill citing “numerous studies showing that exposure to chlorpyrifos in the womb harms children’s brain development.” Human Rights Watch has joined with over 80 other organizations working to protect the environment, public health, workers and children to support the ban on chlorpyrifos.

In New York, the pesticide is used on apples, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and other crops. It also seeps into the water supply, jeopardizing both public health and the environment.

Farmworkers are at particular risk. For two decades, Human Rights Watch has documented the dangers to children working in US agriculture, including pesticide exposure. Many children have told us that after encountering pesticides, they experienced vomiting, dizziness, headaches, burning of the eyes and nose, and other acute health effects.

The Trump administration has refused to ban chlorpyrifos, overruling recommendations from scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency. In the absence of federal leadership, it’s up to state leaders like Cuomo to protect the public from this dangerous chemical.

Governments are responsible for safeguarding health, especially for children, and ensuring workers are protected from exposure to harmful chemicals. That’s why banning chlorpyrifos is a human rights imperative. Cuomo still has time to do the right thing.