(Beyond Pesticides, October 3, 2016) On Friday, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) released a rule titled, Pesticide Use Near Schoolsites, that proposes limited restrictions for certain agricultural pesticide applications near schools and child day care facilities. CDPR, whose proposal has been criticized by advocates as not adequately protective of workers and communities, is accepting public comments on the proposal until November 17, 2016.
The proposed rule, effective October 1, 2017, will require farmers to notify public schools and child day care facilities when “certain pesticide applications made for the production of an agricultural commodity near a school site are planned in the coming year and also a few days prior to the applications.” For pesticides applied via aircraft, airblast sprayer, sprinkler chemigation, and fumigation, there must be a minimum ¼ mile buffer around the school or child day care facility. While the move by CDPR is a step in the right direction, it is not rigorous enough and does not adequately protect the most vulnerable populations from pesticide exposure, according to advocates. The rule does not include private K-12 schools or family day care homes, a move that according to CDPR documents is due to the potential for increased costs to businesses and regulated entities. Additionally, the rule only applies to pesticide application activities Monday through Friday, during the hours of 6am to 6pm. Advocates say that these are unacceptable holes in this proposed rule and must be addressed before the final rule is published.
California officials told the Associated Press that “roughly 34 people were sickened in five instances throughout the state between 2005 and 2014 when pesticides drifted onto campuses, demonstrating a need for stricter regulations.” The rule will cover 3,500 schools and day cares and affect approximately 2,500 growers in California.
The stakes are high for families living in the Central Valley of California, where agricultural pesticide use is widespread. According to a 2014 report by the California Department of Public Health, Fresno, Tulare, and San Joaquin counties having the highest numbers of schools within ¼ mile of pesticide application. Additionally, of the top 10 pesticides applied within ¼ mile of the schools assessed, 6 are restricted use and all have been associated with at least one negative effect on children’s health, including cancer, endocrine disruption, developmental delays, and neurotoxicity. California schools began implementing new pesticide reporting and use requirements at the beginning of 2015. All schools and child day care centers statewide are now required to report their annual use of pesticides to CDPR.
While the new limits and restrictions are a step in the right direction, farmworker and advocacy groups believe that more needs to be done, as they fall short of scientists’ recommendations. Increased buffer zones may provide some reprieve from pesticide trespass, but it will not eliminate health concerns for children in the region. Virginia Zaunbrecher, JD, of UCLA’s Science and Technology program remarked to Fresno Bee earlier this year, “In general, a buffer zone is going to decrease exposure, but it’s not going to eliminate exposure.” Beyond Pesticides has long encouraged a minimum two mile buffer zone for agricultural pesticide use around sensitive areas. The proposed rule does create a route of communication and notification for when pesticide applications will be taking place, which is an important component for communities.
More than a decade ago, six families filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that details the dangerous levels of pesticides at Latino public schools throughout California that exposed Latino kids to chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders and other serious health problems. The complaint urged EPA to enforce the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funds from engaging in discriminatory practices. In 2011, as a result of a settlement agreement EPA reached with CDPR, EPA found that CDPR’s past renewal of the toxic fumigant methyl bromide discriminated against Latino school children whose schools are located near agriculture fields, conceding that unintentional adverse and disproportionate impact on Latino children resulting from the use of methyl bromide during that period could have occurred. Little was done to remedy these exposures and so a lawsuit was filed in 2013 against EPA’s continuing failure to protect Latino students. The case was subsequently moved for dismissal in federal court in part due to lack of jurisdiction. Methyl bromide is still widely used in California to grow strawberries, despite its ban under the Montreal Protocol, but it will no longer be eligible for a critical use exemption after 2016.
Ultimately, what is needed to truly protect community health is a transition away from toxic pesticides toward agricultural practices which promote pest resilience and eliminate the need for toxic chemicals. A wide variety of alternative practices and products are available to assist growers in preventing pest problems before they start. Organic agriculture, which requires farmers to improve soil health and craft an organic system plan to guide pest control decisions, represents a viable path forward for agriculture in California and beyond.
Any interested person may present comments in writing about the proposed action by the CDPR to the agency contact, Linda Irokawa-Otani. Written comments must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. on November 17, 2016. Comments regarding this proposed action may also be transmitted via eâˆ’mail to email@example.com or by fax to 916âˆ’324âˆ’1491.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Associated Press