(Beyond Pesticides, February 25, 2008) After two years of residents calling on local authorities for greater protection from drifting airborne pesticides, the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner has adopted new pesticide buffer zone rules, or “permit conditions,” that prohibits aerial applications of restricted use pesticides within one-quarter mile of schools in session or due to be in session within 24 hours, occupied farm labor camps and residential areas.
The Allensworth School Board, the Cutler-Orosi School Board and over 1,750 organizations and individuals endorsed the call for buffer zones in Tulare County. Community members launched efforts to establish buffer zones because of the serious health risks posed by pesticide exposure, ranging from short-term effects such as dizziness, vomiting and rashes to long-term effects including asthma, cancer, birth defects, damage to the developing child and neurological harm.
Community efforts included conducting surveys documenting the general public’s exposure to pesticides, sampling for pesticides in the air and in residents’ bodies, and presenting local authorities with a petition endorsing the establishment of buffer zones around sensitive sites such as schools.
According to the Mercury News, “An Associated Press investigation found that 590 people in California were sickened by pesticides at schools from 1996 to 2005, more than a third of which were due to pesticide drift.”
“The times are changing about when, where and how pesticides can be applied,” said Gustavo Aguirre, Assistant Director of Organizing at Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “The ”˜business as usual’ approach of poisoning community members and polluting the air is no longer acceptable.”
Over 50% of all public schools in Tulare County are within one-quarter mile of agricultural operations. Towns such as Plainview that are next to alfalfa or cotton fields where aerial applications are common will benefit the most from the new rules.
“This is a great victory for communities who regularly and unwillingly breathe pesticides in their day to day lives,” said Irma Arrollo, Director of El Quinto Sol de América, a local Lindsay community group. “Regular people can change things when they get together. This is just a first step to protect the health of our families from pesticides. It’s an excellent start.”
Tulare joins Kern and Kings Counties which have similar permit conditions, and are the strongest buffer zone requirements in the San Joaquin Valley. Other San Joaquin Valley counties either have weaker or no general buffer zone rules in place around schools, labor camps and residences.
Pesticide drift is an inevitable problem in pest management strategies that rely on spray and dust pesticide formulations. Although of greatest concern is the aerial application of pesticides, where up to 40% of the pesticide is lost to drift, pesticides can also drift when applied from a truck or hand held application.
Recent reports in Hawaii of pesticides drifting onto school property and poisoning students have lead state lawmakers to consider legislation that would establish buffer zones around elementary schools (See Daily News of February 11, 2008).
According to Beyond Pesticides’ report Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass: Pesticide drift hits homes, schools and other sensitive sites throughout communities, seven states have recognized the importance of controlling drift by restricting pesticide applications around school properties, residential areas and other sensitive sites. State required buffer zones range from 100 feet to 2 1/2 miles, depending on the application method, pesticide type and site to be protected from potential drift.