(Beyond Pesticides, November 9, 2023) Two-hundred-foot pesticide spray â€śbuffer zonesâ€ť around 4,028 U.S. elementary schools contiguous to crop fieldsâ€”according to data evaluated by Environmental Working Groupâ€”are threatened by potential Farm Bill amendments now under consideration. Legislative language, if adopted, would take away (preempt) the authority of states and local jurisdictions to protect children and restrict agricultural pesticides used near schools.
Pesticide drift is a widespread problem throughout the U.S. that has attracted national attention in recent years because of crop damage caused by the weed killer dicamba in numerous midwestern states. In the face of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyâ€™s (EPA) failure to mitigate drift hazards, states enact limits on when and how pesticides can be used, establish buffer zones around application sites, and in some cases, ban uses. In 2018,Â Arkansas banned dicamba useÂ from mid-April through the end of October (andÂ survived a Monsanto challengeÂ to the ban. For a historical perspective on the drift issue, see Getting the Drift on Pesticide Trespass.
Children, in particular, face unique risks from pesticide and toxic chemical exposures. Due to their smaller body size, they absorb a higher relative amount of pesticides through the food they consume and the air they breathe. Additionally, childrenâ€™s developing organ systems make them more vulnerable to the impacts of toxic exposure. Several authoritative bodies, including Â EPA , the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Public Health Association, have all voiced concerns about the potential dangers that pesticides pose to children. Scientific evidence has shown that pesticide exposure can negatively impact a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine systems, even at low levels. Some pesticides, such as synthetic pyrethroids, organophosphates, and carbamates, are known to cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms.
According to the EWG data, more than 30 states have adopted standards to restrict pesticides near schools. For example, in Alabama, aerial applications of pesticides are prohibited within 400 feet of school grounds, and, in Louisiana, aerial application is prohibited within 1000 feet of schools. At the local level, there are hundreds of ordinances to safeguard the public from pesticides. San Diego, California has an ordinance that restricts pesticides within 1/4 mile and (25 feet with a power sprayer) from daycares and elementary schools between 6 am and 6 pm Monday through Friday. Cleveland Heights, Ohio passed an ordinance to prohibit â€ścosmetic pesticides and herbicides on public groundsâ€ť which includes schools and daycare centers.
However, the ongoing battle to preserve the authority of local governments to protect people and the environment continues, with some states seeking to curtail local control. The debate between federal and state authority over pesticide regulations, exemplified by the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act, holds significant implications for public health, environmental protection, and state government authority.
Environmental activists and concerned citizens are emphasizing the importance of retaining the ability of states to inform their residents about product risks, including pesticides like glyphosate. Jay Feldman, the director of Beyond Pesticides said, â€śWe are urging the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to draft a Farm Bill that does not undermine the authority of local communities striving to safeguard public health and the environment.â€ť Mr. Feldman continues, â€śThe proposed solution to protect childrenâ€™s health, as well as mitigate threats to biodiversity and the climate, is the elimination of petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic land management practices have gained recognition as the most effective alternative to chemical-intensive agriculture and land management.â€ť
As the debate over pesticide regulation intensifies, the safety and well-being of children, environmental protection, and the authority of state governments across the United States hang in the balance. The outcome of the Farm Bill could have far-reaching implications for all stakeholders involved. Read more about the Farm Bill negotiations here.
In the absence of protective measures for children and communities, advocates play a crucial role in pushing for change. Enforcement of existing pesticide laws is often the most challenging phase of community-based efforts, requiring vigilant monitoring and public pressure. For help in passing or enforcing a pesticide policy in your childâ€™s school, contact Beyond Pesticides at 202-543-5450 or by email at [email protected]. You can stay informed of developments through our Daily News Blog and our journal, Pesticides and You.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.