Allowing Chlorpyrifos use in greenfield is Environmental racism - By Yanely Martinez, Greenfield city councilwoman
Originally published in Salinas 93905. Access online at https://salinas93905.com/2018/01/31/guest-column-councilwoman-speaks-out-against-the-dangers-of-chlorpyrifos/
I see so many good things in Greenfield – our community involvement, our diverse cultural events, and our bright young scholars. But one of my greatest fears for this city is something we can’t see: pesticide drift and its many health threats.
Among the most concerning pesticides applied to Salinas Valley fields is chlorpyrifos. It belongs to a class of chemicals called organophosphates, which were developed as nerve gases by the Nazis. So, while chlorpyrifos is used widely – more than one million pounds a year in California fields – to kill bugs, the class of chemicals it belongs to was once used to attack the nervous system of people.
And we now know chlorpyrifos does indeed damage human nervous systems. The evidence is right here in the Salinas Valley, found by UC Berkeley’s Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, better known as CHAMACOS. Its longitudinal study, involving hundreds of Salinas Valley women and children over the past 18 years, found that the kids most exposed in the womb to organophosphate pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, also tended to have poorer cognitive function, abnormal reflexes, increased risk of ADHD, and lower IQs, as well as decreased lung function. On November 29, 2017, the California EPA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment considered the scientific evidence of the last 8 years and identified chlorpyrifos as a Prop 65 Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant.
This awful stuff has been used in Greenfield and near Greenfield schools at some of the highest rates in the state. In the only study ever done about pesticide use near California schools published in 2014, the Department of Public Health found that Greenfield High and Vista Verde Middle had the 4th and 9th highest amounts in all of California of chlorpyrifos applied within ¼-mile of the schools. Amounts can vary significantly from year to year, but the most recent pesticide use reports from 2015 indicate that these two Greenfield public schools still have more chlorpyrifos applied in their square mile sections than any other schools in the Monterey Bay region.
The chlorpyrifos story should have ended by now. In November 2016, the US EPA scientists recommended an effective ban on chlorpyrifos. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration ignored its own scientists and refused to ban the pesticide. I know I’m not the only one who expected Trump’s administration to attack immigrant communities, the environment, and science; but I did not expect the State of California to do the same. In this state, we’re supposed to be resisting such attacks!
Rather than suspend or ban chlorpyrifos in California, DPR called for a years-long review process and recommended a range of “setback distances” between chlorpyrifos applications and occupied “sensitive sites” like schools of 150 to 500 feet. 500 feet is not even 1½ soccer fields. And it doesn’t help Greenfield High or Vista Verde Middle, because schools in Monterey County already have a 500-foot separation from fields.
However hopeful, DPR’s new regulations restricting pesticide use around schools won’t protect us from chlorpyrifos, either. The Salinas airport pesticide air monitor, which was far more than 1,320 feet from chlorpyrifos applications, measured chlorpyrifos concentrations at three times higher than the federal health risk factor, according to the US EPA November 2016 report. Chlorpyrifos drifts for miles – even DPR’s formulas for estimating chlorpyrifos air concentrations rely on measuring applications up to 4 miles away. The 2014 UC Davis MIND Institute study found chlorpyrifos applications within 1 mile during pregnancy correlated with increased risk of a child with autism. Our children deserve more than 1,320 feet of protection from chlorpyrifos at school.
While DPR draws out years of bureaucratic review, hundreds of children born or soon-to-be-born in Greenfield continue to face increased risks of brain harm. The environmental racism of this policy puts communities and schools that are over 90% people of color, like those in Greenfield, at far greater risk than predominantly white communities.
You can’t really see chlorpyrifos, but you can certainly smell it. It’s got a bad odor – like rotten eggs or skunk. But California’s policy to allow chlorpyrifos use in the fields smells far worse. It smells of hate and racism.