(Beyond Pesticides, October 16, 2009) On October 14th, Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice filed a petition asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set safety standards protecting children who grow up near farms from the harmful effects of pesticide drift. The groups are also asking the agency to adopt an immediate no-spray buffer zone around homes, schools, parks and daycare centers for the most dangerous and drift-prone pesticides, organophosphates.
The petition was filed by the public interest law firms on behalf of farmworker groups: United Farm Workers, Oregon-based Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noreste, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO as well as Physicians for social Responsibility, Washington-based Sea Mar Community Health Center, Pesticide Action Network North America, and MomsRising.org.
Specifically, the petition states that the EPA has failed to address the facts that children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides according findings by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1993. Congress took recommendations from NAS and passed the Food Quality Protection Act in1996, requiring EPA to “ensure that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to infants and children from aggregate exposure” to pesticides.
However, while EPA has made some progress in canceling numerous home uses of pesticides because of excessive risks to children, the harmful effects of pesticide drift from agricultural areas was ultimately ignored. According to the petition, EPA’s failure comes despite its acknowledgment of its obligation to protect children from drift, which can cause acute poisonings as well as cancer, long-term reproductive and developmental disorders, and other chronic adverse effects.
There are many documented cases of the harmful effects of agricultural pesticide drift on children. Among the many examples, one new study shows that children exposed to agricultural pesticides applied near their home have up to twice the risk of developing the most common form of childhood leukemia. Also, recent air monitoring conducted near an elementary school in Florida detected pesticides in every sample, sometimes at levels that may pose serious health risks to young children.
“We traditionally think of farms as healthy places,” said MomsRising.org President Joan Blades. “But children and families across the country are being poisoned by pesticides that travel from the fields into their houses and bedrooms, causing serious and long-lasting damage to their health. We already have standards barring the use of such pesticides for homes and lawns to protect children. But all children deserve such protection. You shouldn’t have to live in the suburbs to be safe from deadly pesticides.”
According to Beyond Pesticides’ report Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass: Pesticide drift hits homes, schools and other sensitive sites throughout communities, pesticides can volatilize into the gaseous state and be transported over long distances fairly rapidly through wind and rain. Documented exposure patterns resulting from drift, causes particular concerns for children and other sensitive population groups, as adverse health effects, such as nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, headaches, rashes, and mental disorientation, may appear even when a pesticide is applied according to label directions.
“In farming communities throughout the country, children have been abandoned by federal pesticide protections,” said Earthjustice attorney Janette Brimmer. “We’re asking EPA to finish the job it started so children who live, go to school, or play near farms and orchards are kept safe from poisonous pesticides.”
EPA has acknowledged the risk of pesticide drift, but still chose to protect urban and suburban areas, while leaving the children of farm workers and other rural kids vulnerable. The petition asks EPA to take immediate steps to comply with its legal duty to protect all children from pesticide drift.
“It’s time the EPA put an end to this double-standard for farm workers. EPA’s policies must protect farm workers and their children from unnecessary poisoning,” said Farmworker Justice attorney Virginia Ruiz.
A study by the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension “Reducing Pesticide Drift,” estimates that up to 40% of a pesticide applied in aerial spraying is lost to drift. (Klein, B. 2002) Another study, Amounts of pesticides reaching target pests: Environmental impacts and ethics found that an estimated less than 0.1% of an insecticide actually reached target pests. Therefore, more than 99% of the applied pesticide is released and left to impact the surrounding environment.
“It’s outrageous that our own government isn’t protecting our children from being poisoned by pesticides drifting on their homes and schools,” said Julie Montgomery, Project Director and Attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. “How can parents possibly protect their children from these dangers on their own?”
The petition focuses on the toxic drift of organophosphates, particularly: endosulfan, oxydemeton-methyl, ethoprop, methyl parathion, and chlorpyrifos. Short term exposures of chlorypyrifos has been likened to a chemically-induced flu with even short term exposure: chest tightness, blurred vision, headaches, coughing and wheezing, weakness, nausea and vomiting, coma, seizures, and even death. Studies have also shown that young children are potentially susceptible to certain organophosphates for a longer period of time than previously thought.
“Children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposures both because their smaller bodies cannot break down toxins as well as adults, and because their developmental processes are prone to being derailed — even by very low-level exposure,” explains Dr. Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist for Pesticide Action Network. “The particular pesticides we’re finding in our drift catching and biomonitoring results are some of the worst: chlorpyrifos, diazinon, endosulfan…these are associated with serious short- and long-term health effects. They are also entirely unnecessary.”
For more information on how pesticides impact children’s health, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Children and Schools page.
Source: Earth Justice Press Release