Originally published in the Salinas Californian. Access online at https://www.thecalifornian.com/story/news/2014/10/08/cancer-concerns-raised-pesticides-found-air/16864413/
After much delay, a new round of air sampling data released by state officials last month shows that hazardous pesticides continue to be found in the air of the state’s agricultural regions, including at cancer-risk levels in Salinas and Watsonville.
Fumigant pesticides, especially cancer-causing 1,3-D (trade name: Telone), and toxic air contaminant chloropicrin, were found in the air at sampling sites at Ohlone Elementary School in Watsonville and the Salinas airport. The Department of Pesticide Regulation’s September 24 study, “Methyl Bromide and 1,3-Dichloropropine Air Monitoring Results,” reveals that 2012 average concentration of 1,3-D exceeded the cancer risk regulatory goal of 0.14 ppb concentration in Watsonville with a 0.16 ppb reading. Cal EPA’s and DPR’s September 2014 “Draft Air Monitoring Network Results for 2013”, found that average 1,3-D concentrations in 2011 in Salinas exceeded the cancer risk regulatory goal of 1 in 100,000 by 0.37 in 100,000.
Chloropicrin, which has the characteristics of a tear gas but is no longer authorized for military use, was measured in concentrations in Salinas 140 prcent above the DPR health screening level for a 4-week rolling average in 2013. This same fumigant was the pesticide most applied near Monterey County schools in 2010, according to a Department of Public Health report released in April 2014.
An additional concern in these DPR reports is that the trend in both Watsonville and Salinas is for increasing concentrations of highly toxic pesticides. Of the nine pesticides detected at quantifiable levels at the Salinas airport in 2013, eight of them had increased over 2012 in the highest recorded 24-hour level, as well as the highest rolling 4-week average level of concentrations. DPR’s “Methyl Bromide Air-Monitoring Results for 2013” (Sep 16) found that “Salinas and Watsonville … had higher yearly average concentrations in 2013 compared to both 2011 and 2012.”
Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist for The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) stated in a Sept. 23 news release: “For the past two years PAN has pointed to the problems of a sampling plan that fails to focus on periods of peak use, sampling sites located too far from points of application, and sites that are too few in number.” Despite the fact that the air monitors are not placed near the areas of highest pesticide use, these results still exceed the safety levels set to protect public health from cancer. Telone and chloropicrin are some of the most dangerous pesticides on the market. Parents, teachers and all residents of Monterey County should be concerned about these results and the impact of exposure to these pesticides for the county’s children, farmworkers and all residents.
The lone air-monitoring site in Salinas at the airport is more than a quarter-mile from agricultural fields, and yet still registers highly concerning levels of toxic pesticides in the air. One in four Monterey County schoolchildren attend schools within quarter-mile (1,320 feet) of highly hazardous pesticide use, according to April 2014 Department of Public Health study. The Monterey Agricultural Commissioner has indicated that the practice for restricted pesticide applications around Monterey County schools is a buffer zone of only 500 feet. Clearly this is not enough to protect schoolchildren.
Presented now with even more evidence of the dangers of pesticides, we renew our call for larger buffer zones of at least quarter-mile around schools and neighborhoods; 72-hour advanced notification of schools and neighborhoods of pesticide applications; an online database with site specific pesticide use data; comprehensive air-monitoring with annual reports, especially at schools and other sensitive sites; and the replacement of fumigants and organophosphate pesticides with safe and sustainable alternatives by 2020.
Cesar Lara is executive director of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council and member of the Safe Strawberry Monterey County Working Group