(Beyond Pesticides, March 4, 2011) California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has begun a program to monitor air in areas of intense agricultural production in order to assess the effects of long-term exposure to pesticides. To expand the department’s knowledge of pesticides’ potential health risks, it has set up machines to monitor air quality in three California communities: Shafter in Kern County, Salinas in Monterey County and Ripon in San Joaquin County.
The program will not measure concentrations of all pesticides that are used in the state. DPR has developed a list of certain pesticides that will be monitored based on amount of use and potential health risks associated with them. In all, there will be 34 pesticides evaluated, along with breakdown products for several of them. The list includes 11 organophosphates, such as acephate, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, dichlorvos (DDVP), and malathion. Six soil fumigants will also be monitored, including methyl bromide, methyl iodide, and metam sodium. The full list is available from the DPR website.
According to Mary-Ann Warmerdam, Director of DPR, “The air monitoring network is the first of its kind in the nation.” The department’s intent, she said, “is to make more accurate estimates of health risks based on long-term exposure rather than extrapolate from short-term monitoring data to determine if additional protective measures are needed.”
The three communities were selected to be statistically representative of farm communities throughout the state. They were chosen from a list of 226 communities based on pesticide use on surrounding farmland as well as demographics, including percentage of children, the elderly and farm workers. Depending on resources, DPR may expand the air network in the future to include more frequent sampling, more pesticides or more communities.
The air will be monitored by collecting one 24-hour sample a week at each site for at least two years. Although this data will present useful averages for air concentrations, it may miss spikes in concentrations of a particular pesticide, which can occur when they are applied. These occasional elevated levels can result in exponentially greater risk as a result of high exposure over a short period of time.
DPR will compare pesticide concentrations with screening levels developed by its scientists, track trends in air concentrations and correlate concentrations with use and weather patterns. In the absence of federal or state enforceable health-based limits on pesticide emissions in air, DPR set screening levels. These screening levels, however, are not enforceable regulatory standards, but rather guideposts for preliminary evaluations of air monitoring data.
There have been many concerns raised about the use of nearly all of the pesticides that will be monitored through this program. The fact that DPR is taking efforts to become more aware of the risks from which these concerns stem is promising. However, advocates say these concerns would have been more properly addressed prior to approval from the department. The current air monitoring program, though well-intentioned, essentially amounts to an experiment conducted on the general public. To authorize the widespread release of these substances into the environment without first determining all potential effects on public health from long-term exposure or necessary protective measures advocates say presents great potential risk to the public.
The data that is collected through the program will be released by DPR annually, beginning in 2012. If you live in California and would like to receive updates on the program by email, DPR has a mailing list which you can join on its website.
Source: DPR Press Release