(Beyond Pesticides, August 29, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last Thursday that it has entered into an agreement with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) to resolve a civil rights complaint from 1999 which alleged that the department’s renewal of the toxic fumigant methyl bromide in 1999 discriminated against Latino school children whose schools are located near agriculture fields. Per the agreement, CDPR has agreed to expand on-going monitoring of methyl bromide air concentrations by adding a monitor at or near one of the Watsonville, CA area schools named in the original complaint. The purpose of the additional monitor is to confirm that there will be no recurrence of earlier conditions. CDPR will share the monitoring results with EPA and the public and will also increase its community outreach and education efforts to schools that are in high methyl bromide usage areas.EPA says that this is a part of a “backlog” of more than 30 unresolved complaints.
The complaint was filed in 1999 under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 , which prohibits intentional discrimination and discriminatory effects on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance. The complaint alleged that CDPR’s annual renewal of the registration of methyl bromide in 1999 discriminated against Latino school children based on the health impacts of this pesticide. The Office of Civil Rights’ extensive analysis of pesticide use in California from 1995 to 2001, raised concerns that there was an unintentional adverse and disparate impact on Latino children resulting from the use of methyl bromide during that period. This concern was based on the high percentage of Latino children in schools near fields where methyl bromide was applied for the period from 1995-2001.
These measures fall short, however, of actually providing relief to the children and their parents who were affected by the use of methyl bromide. According to the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, who filed the initial complaint on behalf of parents and children in the region, it provides no substantive relief or remedy to the people who were affected. Brent Newell, the groups lawyer told the Huffington Post: “Those school children have since graduated from high school and the EPA gave them no remedy.” The group also points out that EPA could have referred the case to the Department of Justice for prosecution, and failed to inform the families about the findings.
Methyl Bromide, a soil fumigant, is currently being phased out as mandated by the Clean Air Act and international treaty because it depletes the earth’s ozone layer. Rather than using the opportunity to support sustainable, organic practices, and much to the dismay and outcry of scientists, environmental and farmworker groups, California regulators approved the highly potent, carcinogenic fumigant methyl iodide last December. In January, a lawsuit was filed by a coalition of farmworkers and environmental health organizations challenging DPR’s approval of methyl iodide on the grounds that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act, and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act that protects groundwater against pesticide pollution. In addition, the suit contends that DPR violated the law requiring involvement of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in the development of farmworker safety regulations and made an unlawful finding of emergency with its request for Restricted Materials status for methyl iodide.
Our food choices have a direct effect on those who grow and harvest what we eat around the world. This is why food labeled organic is the right choice. In addition to serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, protection of farmworkers and farm families.