California Weakens Rules to Protect Children from Pesticide Drift, Comment Period Open until April 4
(Beyond Pesticides, March 21, 2017) Last week, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) released revised rules regarding notification of pesticide applications near schools, weakening standards despite opposition from community and public health groups. The new rules rescind a requirement that schools be granted 48 hours prior notification for a planned application of agricultural pesticides within ¼ mile of a school site. CDPR has re-opened public comments on the new rules, and concerned residents have until April 4 to submit a short statement urging increased protections to the Department at email@example.com.
Public health, farmworker, and community groups had urged CDPR to strengthen, not weaken common-sense protections for children’s health. As the rules currently stand, applications of toxic, drift-prone pesticides will only be restricted within ¼ mile of a school site, and only during the hours of 6am to 6pm on weekdays. The original proposal required 48 hour prior notification for other agricultural pesticide applications occurring within ¼ mile of school sites during these times. However, CDPR’s revised rules now only require 48 hour notification if the pesticides applied are not on a list provided to school officials at the beginning of the year. Applicators will still be required to submit annual reports detailing pesticide applications over the past year.
Given the range of health effects linked to agricultural pesticides, and the history of pesticide use in agricultural areas of California, advocates say it is unacceptable for CDPR to continue to water down already insufficient protections. While the Department indicates its removal of the 48 hour notification requirement was in response to both growers and school officials, many school districts with voluntary 48 hour prior notification agreements with growers have a positive view of the arrangement.
“We have events in the evening,” said Ventura County School Superintendent Pelelope DeLeon to the Ventura County Star. “Our facilities are being used all the time.” Ventura County receives 48 hour notice for pesticide applications planned at night or on weekends. “I would hate not to be getting the notifications,” she said. When there are weekend or nighttime events, such as sports games, the 48 hour notification provides time for the school district to negotiate with growers on changing the timing of the application.
Campaigners for public health have asked CDPR to extend the buffer zone to one mile, and increase notification requirements to include after school and weekends. In comments to CDPR on its original proposal, Beyond Pesticides highlighted the impact of chronic pesticide exposure on behavior and learning disabilities in children, including their IQ. One study from the University of California, Berkeley, which looked at families in the intensive agricultural region of Salinas Valley, California, found that IQ levels for children with the most organophosphate (OP) exposure were a full seven IQ points lower than those with the lowest exposure levels. The Berkeley team also found that every tenfold increase in measures of OPs detected during a mother’s pregnancy corresponded to a 5.5 point drop in overall IQ scores in the seven-year-olds.
Beyond Pesticides also took issue with CDPR’s economic impact statement for the rules. While the Department meticulously quantified the costs borne by growers, it provided amorphous, qualitative estimations on the benefits of this regulation, despite widely available data quantifying impacts such as lost IQ points. A 2016 study published in The Lancet estimated that organophosphate pesticide exposure, insecticides often used for agricultural purposes, resulted in 1.8 million lost IQ points, and 7.5 thousand intellectual disability cases annually at an estimated cost of $44.7 billion each year. Of that $44.7 billion, roughly $350 million in costs can be attributed to California, proportionately. Even if the state considered this rule as reducing 10% of that economic burden on public health, the benefits of this regulation, at $35 million, would far outweigh the estimated $15 million in costs to growers estimated by CDPR. Moreover, these benefits are accrued annually, while CDPR estimated the costs to growers to be over the lifetime of the rule. Despite publicly available data to make these determinations, CDPR asserted it was “too speculative to estimate incidents of exposure to school sites that be by avoided by the prohibitions or notifications.” The agency did not respond to Beyond Pesticides’ cost-analysis in its revised rules.
“With only part-time protections in place, children and families attending sporting events and other extracurricular activities will still be exposed to pesticides used on nearby fields that scientists have linked to cancer, reproductive harm and brain damage,” said Californians for Pesticide Reform in a statement to the Ventura County Star.
Those concerned about agricultural pesticide use near places where children play can still make their voice heard. CDPR will be accepting comment on its proposed changes until April 4, when the Department will begin the process of finalizing the rule. Act today by submitting your comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.