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Daily News Blog

02
Jun

California Court Bans State-Run Pesticide Spraying for Failure to Consider Adverse Impacts

(Beyond Pesticides, June 2, 2022) A California judge ordered state-run pesticide spraying to cease on public, agricultural, wild lands, and private properties. The judge states that government officials fail to consider and minimize the potential health and environmental risk associated with pesticide use. Moreover, officials failed to notify the public on the risks of pesticide spraying. The suit was brought by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the City of Berkeley and ten other public health, conservation and food safety organizations, including Beyond Pesticides. Board member of the California Environmental Health Initiative Nan Wishner states, “The court made the right decision to throw out CDFA’s plan to cement into place for the indefinite future the agency’s ‘spray now, ask questions later approach to pest management, which would have perpetuated the existing situation, in which Californians learn their yards or neighborhoods are to be sprayed only when the treatments are about to happen and have little or no recourse to stop the use of pesticides.” 

On May 19, 2022, the Superior Court of California – County of Sacramento ruled to remove an environmental impact report allowing California’s Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to spray pesticides at any time and any place. Removal of the environmental impact report also brings an end to chemical pest management under the CDFA pesticide spray program. State and local agencies must provide research on how pesticide spraying projects may affect the health of humans, animals, and the environment while finding solutions to eliminate the potential threat.

Moreover, the law requires CDFA to research and reveal environmental and health threats from 75 pesticides used across California. However, the geography and ecosystem of regions in California differ, and CDFA failed to analyze the adverse environmental and health effects in specific locations. The geography (e.g., lowland) and ecosystem (e.g., temperature, light exposure, moisture) of a region can significantly affect the severity of pesticide toxicity. Moreover, CDFA’s pest management program used pesticides known to be toxic to pollinators like bees, butterflies, bats and birds, and aquatic organisms. The impact of pesticides on wildlife—including mammals, bees and other pollinators, fish and other aquatic organisms, birds, and the biota within the soil—is extensive. Many studies document how exposure to these toxic chemicals causes reproductive, neurological, renal, hepatic, endocrine, and developmental damage and cancers in various species. Although there are policies to protect wildlife from harm, such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, a 2013 report by the National Academy of Sciences identifies shortcomings in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) evaluation and analysis of pesticides on endangered species. Like CDFA, the agency regularly disregards discussing how to take precaution to protect threatened and endangered species from pesticide harms. 

This litigation requires CDFA to cease state-run pesticide spraying programs due to the understudied and undisclosed risks. Although pesticide spraying under CDFA will reduce, many of these same chemicals remain in use through other programs and in various regions like wildlife refuges. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), some of these chemicals include: 

  • Neonicotinoid (neonic) insecticides are highly toxic to pollinators like bees that encounter the chemical through pollen or nectar. Songbirds encounter neonic through consumption of pesticide-treated seeds, with one seed being enough to result in death. Moreover, the chemical is highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates, which share a similar morphology to insects on land.
  • The toxic fumigant methyl bromide, known to deplete the ozone layer, can cause children to develop autism in their first year of life after exposure in the womb. 
  • Chloropicrin, a soil fumigant also used as a fungicide and herbicide, has links to a catalogue of health effects, including genetic damagerespiratory ailments, skin irritation, and headaches. Moreover, the chemical is prone to drift. 

California director of government affairs for EWG, Bill Allayaud, concludes, “The court was right to rule against the Department of Food and Agriculture’s outrageous effort to keep the public in the dark about how and when it plans to spray toxic pesticides and to downplay the risks these chemicals pose to pollinators, the environment and the health of those who live near farm fields.[…] It is our hope that this court decision moves the CDFA to join the state’s movement toward sustainable pest management, as represented by the governor’s Sustainable Agriculture budget initiative and the state Department of Pesticide Regulation’s Sustainable Pest Management Work Group.”

The use of pesticides should be phased out and ultimately eliminated to protect the health of humans, wildlife, and the ecosystem. Pesticide spraying threatens the survivability and recovery of many species, and litigation such as this helps curb the effects of chemical exposure. The globe is currently going through the Holocene Extinction, Earth’s 6th mass extinction, with one million species of plants and animals at risk and an increasing rate of biodiversity loss. However, advocating for local and state pesticide reform policies can protect all species’ health. For more information on pesticide impacts on wildlife and human health, visit Beyond Pesticides’ wildlife page and Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database.

Furthermore, buyinggrowing, and supporting organic can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment. Organic agriculture has many health and environmental benefits that eliminate the need for chemical-intensive agricultural practices across the nation. For more information on how the organic choice is the right choice, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.  

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

Sources: Environmental Working Group

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