Daily News Archive
From July 7, 2005

California Bill To Raise Fines On Pesticide Drift To Be Reconsidered
(Beyond Pesticides, July 7, 2005)
California Senate Bill SB 879, a bill that would speed up investigations into pesticide drift incidents and raise fines for those responsible, had its first California State Assembly hearing this week. While the bill failed passage in the Assembly Agriculture Committee, it will be reconsidered at the next hearing, which may be as early as this week.

SB 879, authored by Senator Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk, calls for pesticide drift investigations to be completed within two months unless the state explains the delay. It also calls for mandatory fines when a pesticide violation threatens human health, and it creates a process for victims to appeal a decision made by a local agricultural commissioner to the state's pesticide regulation agency. Proponents of the bill believe that the measures would create a financial incentive for farmers and applicators to be more careful when applying pesticides.

Farmworkers who have been poisoned by pesticides drifting from fields have come out in support of SB 879, also known as the Pesticide Safety Enforcement Act, as have local environmental groups.

While there have been a few cases in California in which companies are held responsible for pesticide drift incidences, the majority of pesticide drift investigations result in little more than a warning. Fines are assessed only in the most public cases, in which dozens or hundreds of people are harmed, said Martha Guzman, legislative advocate for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. According to farmworkers in the area, most pesticide drift accidents are not even reported, according to the Daily Review.

"Our head hurts, and our nose bleeds sometimes, but we put that to the exhaustion from work, or the heat," said Sandra Garcia, a worker who has been sprayed several times in the 25 years she's been picking fruit in the Central Valley, composed of the nation's highest-grossing farm counties. "But when 30 people have headaches, I don't think it's just the work." Garcia suffers from asthma and said she feels her lungs closing when she approaches vines that have been recently sprayed.

A study on the problem of pesticide drift in California that was released in 2003 by several environmental groups (See Daily News Story) found that airborne pesticide levels routinely exceed acceptable health standards miles from where they are used. More than 90 percent of pesticides used in California are prone to drift, and 34 percent of the 188 million pounds of pesticides used in 2000 in the state are considered highly toxic to humans, the study said.

Farmworkers hope that this bill will change the culture in rural areas by tightening enforcement of existing laws and making any drift incident punishable by a fine. "We know farmers have to take care of their fruit," Garcia said. "We don't want them to lose money either — we need those jobs. We just want there to be safe ways of doing things."

TAKE ACTION: Senate Bill 879 will be reconsidered at the next committee hearing, which could be as early as today. Only one member of the committee, Assemblymember Barbara Matthews, is opposed to this legislation. Your action is urgently needed—Call, fax, or email Assemblymember Barbara Matthews (916-319-2017) and ask her to vote YES in support of SB 879.