Environmental activists Thursday filed a lawsuit hoping to force the Environmental Protection Agency to decide whether to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the group says is toxic.

Chlorpyrifos is sprayed on corn, oranges, almonds and other crops.

"It's poisonous and was initially developed for World War II-era chemical warfare, so this is nasty stuff and it's used all over California," said Kathleen Sutcliffe,, campaign manager for Oakland-based Earthjustice.

Short-term effects of exposure to chlorpyrifos include chest tightness, blurred vision, headaches, coughing, wheezing, weakness, nausea, vomiting, coma, seizures and even death; and prenatal and early childhood exposure has been linked to low birth weights, the group contends in its lawsuit.

EPA banned residential uses of chlorpyrifos in 2001, but it's still used in commercial agriculture.

In September 2007, Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America filed a petition with EPA asking the agency to ban chlorpyrifos. In the nearly three years since, the agency has not responded.

Nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice filed Thursday's lawsuit in federal court in New York on behalf of the two groups.

Don Davis, president of the Kern County Farm Bureau, said he was not familiar with the pesticide and declined to comment.

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