(Beyond Pesticides, May 24, 2018) California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is falling short of protecting vulnerable communities in the state, especially low-income and communities of color. This, according to a new report by California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA), which assesses state agencies on eight environmental justice principles. The poor showing by DPR comes at the forefront of reports that the state’s pesticide use has increased, nearing record highs.
The findings are from California Environmental Justice Alliance’s (CEJA) 2017 Environmental Justice Agency Assessment, which provides full assessments of nine key agencies in the state including, California Air Resources Board, Department of Pesticide Regulation, and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and lists an additional six agencies to monitor. The assessment gave the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) poor grades for its persistent failure to prioritize community health over industry profits. The agencies were judged on eight environmental justice principles, with a score of good, fair or poor for each. DPR’s scores were evenly divided between “fair” and “poor.” Specifically, the report concludes, “Many state agencies are not successfully integrating [environmental justice] into their decision-making. Overall, many state agencies still make decisions that actively harm [environmental justice] communities and fail to meaningfully prioritize their long-standing health and quality of life needs.”
Under scrutiny is DPR’s relationship with DowDuPont and its hazardous, drift-prone fumigant, telone (1,3-dichloropropene), one of the most heavily used pesticides in California. Last year, despite public pressure to increase restrictions on telone, DPR relaxed its cancer risk level that allowed use to increase by 50%. DPR also drew criticism for its failure to take meaningful action on DowDuPont’s neurotoxic, organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos, which came under focus in California after U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed a proposed federal ban. The report also called out DPR for its slow response to a series of pesticide drift incidents in 2017 that sickened dozens of farmworkers. Only two of the five incidents have been investigated to date.
CEJA’s assessment is the only one in the nation to evaluate state agencies based on the impact of their environmental policies on low-income communities and communities of color. This is critical as the California Department of Public Health finds that Latino schoolchildren are almost twice as likely as their white peers to attend schools in the top quartile for nearby pesticide use, but DPR’s regulations do not address the racial disparity in exposure
The assessment of DPR’s performance comes less than a month after their latest annual pesticide use report was released, which showed the overall use of pesticides close to an all-time high. Over 209 million pounds of pesticides were applied in the state in 2016, the third highest since reporting began in 1990. According to Pesticide Action Network (PAN), the greatest burden continues to be borne by the San Joaquin Valley, with half (106 million pounds) used in just five counties – Fresno, Kern, Tulare, San Joaquin and Madera. Among the top five most heavily used pesticides in 2016 were DowDuPont’s telone and Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate (Roundup), both linked to the onset of cancer. Chlorpyrifos, the controversial neurotoxic organophosphate, which can lead to neurological impairments in children dipped to just under a million pounds for the first time in a decade. Last year, a proposed nationwide ban of chlorpyrifos was reversed at the last minute by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt. Thus far, California’s Attorney General Becerra joined with seven other Attorneys General in challenging the EPA’s decision, and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment just added chlorpyrifos to the list of Proposition 65 chemicals. However, DPR has taken little meaningful action on the chemical despite calls for a ban in the state. Instead, the agency announced “Interim recommended permit conditions” that counties can implement to increase protections, including buffer as little as 150 feet – actions advocates called weak. Like EPA, DPR will continue to review the data surrounding chlorpyrifos despite the overwhelming evidence of harm.
Additionally, just last month a group of 56 scientists studying the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides sent a letter to DPR highlighting the threat neonicotinoids pose to the health of California’s waterways. The scientists urge DPR to take steps to reduce neonicotinoid contamination of the state’s streams and rivers. Earlier this year, a California court halted a state program allowing pesticide spraying at schools, organic farms, and backyards across the state because of inadequate public disclosure of the chemicals’ adverse effects. This was in response to a lawsuit brought by the City of Berkeley and eleven public-health, conservation and food safety organizations.
See Beyond Pesticides’ Agricultural Justice page.
Source: PAN News Release