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Daily News Blog

03
Jun

California Regulators to Strengthen Pesticide Restrictions Near Schools

(Beyond Pesticides, June 3, 2015) After years of campaigning by local activists and a lawsuit filed by parents citing discriminatory practices from policies that led to disproportionate exposure of Latino children to pesticides, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) will now seek to gather input from stakeholders to determine what measures are appropriate to enhance protection of California’s schoolchildren. Given that Latino children are more likely to attend schools near areas with the highest use of pesticides of concern, and California’s pesticide use has actually increased over recent years, the state will need strong restrictive policies to provide any meaningful protections for school children.

schoolclass2According to CDPR, the agency will hold five  workshops from May 28 – June 9 2015 to gather input that will later help craft a statewide regulation on  pesticide use near schools, with a focus  on improving school pesticide notification procedures and reducing the risk of exposure. In California, many schools have been built on prime agricultural land next to farm operations. While there are currently state regulations on the use of individual pesticides, CDPR’s regulatory framework for restricted pesticides also allows for the establishment of additional rules to address local conditions. However, existing rules for pesticide use near schools are set by county agricultural commissioners and vary considerably. CDPR is considering whether to adopt some of these rules on a statewide basis, as well as other restrictions. See here for dates and locations.

The input gathered will be used to draft a new statewide regulation to focus on what must occur when a farm near a school wants to apply pesticides. Its aim, according to Brian R. Leahy, director of CDPR, is to clearly define the responsibilities of the farmers, detail the information that must be given to schools and add restrictions on pesticides used when school children are present.

In particular the department would like to hear ideas about:

1. Improving communication through notification to schools of intended applications of certain pesticides. The department is seeking input, for example, on when and under what circumstances such notifications should be made.

2. Reducing the risk of exposure by requiring additional restrictions on certain pesticides. Among other questions, the department is seeking input on is whether such restrictions should focus on specific application methods and within a certain proximity to the school.

For more information on the workshops and materials visit CDPR’s regulation page

The issue of pesticide exposure near schools has long been contentious. Latino children make up 54.1% of the population in the public schools in the 15 counties, and comprised 67.7% of the population in schools in the highest quartile of pesticide use. A 2014 report, issued by the California Environmental Health Tracking Program (CEHTP) and titled “Agricultural Pesticide Use near Public Schools in California,” called for larger buffer zones around schools, which now stand at 500 feet. The report found that 36 percent of public schools in the state have pesticides of public health concern applied within a quarter mile of the school. While not noted in the report, these children may mostly belong to farmworker communities living near agricultural areas. These communities tend to have disproportionate exposure risks to pesticides due to pesticide drift, and are at higher risks of developing serious chronic health problems. Persistent and toxic pesticides like chlorpyrifos, methyl bromide, and malathion are among the pesticides found to be applied near schools. The health effects linked to children’s pesticide exposure are extensive. Recent research from the University of California, Davis,  CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) study found that pregnant women who lived within a mile of agricultural fields treated with insecticides are more likely to have their child develop autism.  For more information, visit Beyond Pesticides’  Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database, which tracks the science on how pesticides are contributing to the rise of learning and developmental disorders in children.

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. Methyl bromide is still widely used in California to grow strawberries, despite its ban under the Montreal Protocol. However, 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.

As a result of the 2011 settlement agreement, California conducts a monitoring program that tests for air particles from methyl bromide and scores of other pesticides and breakdown products, and measures the results against screening levels established by CDPR. However, critics maintain that the state’s sampling is not representative of peak agricultural exposures and question whether any level of a toxicant in air is reasonable under the law, given the viability of alternative agricultural practices that do not rely on these chemicals.

Despite efforts in California to reduce overall pesticide use, especially those around schools, CDPR reported just last month that overall pesticide use in agriculture increased by 3.7 percent between 2012 and 2013. Pesticide use increased by 6.4 million pounds in 2013, especially increased use of organophosphates, including chlorpyrifos, making for a grand total of 178 million pounds of pesticides used annually. CDPR’s efforts to reduce children’s risk of exposure to pesticides near schools are an important first step, but these must include strong restrictions on pesticide use near these sensitive areas.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Sacramento Bee

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