(Beyond Pesticides, April 18, 2007) Two members of Oregon’s Congress have sponsored bills that, if passed, would provide schools with a no-spray buffer zone during the academic year. Among other requirements, the bills would establish separate buffers around schools for aerial spraying, backpack pesticide applications, and additional buffers around roads servicing schools during commuting hours.
Senate Bill 20 (SB 20) and House Bill 2978 are sponsored by State Senator Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, and Representative Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, respectively. SB 20, the stronger of the two bills, is currently the focus of media and organizers on both sides. It is currently being reviewed by the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, which will determine whether it should be introduced to the entire Senate.
The two bills come after a Merck Foundation-funded study by Oregon Toxics Alliance and Forestland Dwellers to map pesticide applications near schools in Lane County. The study found some schools were near areas treated with aerial applications and a logging area sprayed adjacent to athletic fields. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has reported drift incidents at schools causing illness and at least one school closure (as has happened in other states). The proposed buffer zones, according to Lisa Arkin, executive director of Oregon Toxics Alliance (OTA), will reduce children’s health risks. “Secondhand pesticide exposures occur not only from direct particle fallout, but also from volatilization and revaporization, factors that can extend the exposure period from two to 10 days,” she wrote for the Eugene Register Guard.
This focus on spraying near schools, Ms. Arkin continued, is because “Children are more vulnerable to chemical insults because their organs and immune and nervous systems are still maturing, and their ability to metabolize and excrete harmful chemicals inhaled or absorbed through their skin is not yet developed.” A number of recent studies have linked areas of high pesticide drift, including areas treated with common herbicides like 2,4-D, to increased incidence of cancer.
Opponents of SB 20 claim that it will “wreak havoc on the agricultural industry” by forcing property owners “through a series of bureaucratic hoops to apply sprays within five miles of school facilities.” Terry Witt, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, claims it is “basically a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.” However, if SB 20 passes, Oregon will join a number of other states with no-spray zones around schools, such as Massachusetts, Louisiana, New Jersey, and North Carolina. For more information on OTA’s campaign to protect children from pesticide drift, click here.
TAKE ACTION: If you live within the district of one of the Committee members, contact your representative and urge him to support SB 20. OTA also provides a list of Representatives who should hear from their constituents here, along with sample letters and talking points.