Originally published in the Salinas Californian. Access online at www.thecalifornian.com/story/opinion/2018/04/25/opinion-one-year-later-still-waiting-california-ban-brain-harming-pesticide/546829002/
Like many Californians, you’re probably suffering from "Trump Overload." It can be a struggle to remember last week’s headlines, let alone last year’s. All those insults and lies, all those horrible decisions – it can be overwhelming.
But last month was the anniversary of a decision that really hit home for me, and for everyone living wherever food is grown in California. It was the day Trump’s EPA reversed a proposed ban of a particularly nasty pesticide called chlorpyrifos.
How bad is this stuff? EPA scientists say it’s so bad, it should not be used on food crops, ever, in any amount. Chlorpyrifos is a nerve agent like Sarin, designed to attack the nervous system of insects. Unfortunately, it also works on the nervous system of babies and children, whose developing brains can suffer irreversible harm from exposure to even tiny amounts.
By the way, California doesn’t use tiny amounts. In fact, in 2015 alone California used more than a million pounds.
Chlorpyrifos and its health impacts have already been exhaustively studied. Based on a large and growing body of scientific evidence, EPA scientists concluded that children under age two risk exposure levels 140 times higher than what is considered safe, just from eating fruits and vegetables. Imagine the exposure risk for children who live, learn and play near fields where it’s sprayed.
I don’t have to imagine. Those children are in my classroom.
I know what it’s like to teach classes overwhelmed with learning and behavioral issues.
Ask me about the kids in my class with asthma, ADHD, autism. Many of my struggling second-grade students don’t even have a diagnosis, because there aren’t enough psychologists and resource specialists to assess all the students that need it.
Here in California, where more chlorpyrifos is used than in any other state, our elected officials have staked out a position as leaders of the anti-Trump Resistance, especially when it comes to the treatment of immigrants. It’s immigrants and their children who suffer by far the greatest risk of exposure to chlorpyrifos.
In fact, Latino children in Monterey County are 320 percent more likely than their white peers to attend one of the schools most impacted by hazardous pesticide use nearby.
So, one year after the EPA’s decision, what is California doing about the scourge of chlorpyrifos? The good news is that Senator Kamala Harris has signed on to legislation that would ban chlorpyrifos nationally (but will fail in the current Congress). California’s Attorney General Becerra has joined with seven other Attorneys General in challenging the EPA’s decision. And the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment just added it to the list of Prop. 65 chemicals.
But our own regulator, the Department of Pesticide Regulation, has taken little meaningful action. DPR ignored the conclusion of US EPA scientists that led them to propose a ban, as well as the science behind that proposal. They’ve announced pitifully weak “Interim recommended permit conditions” that counties can implement to increase protections – including setbacks of as little as 150 feet.
By way of perspective, in one incident in Kern County last year, chlorpyrifos drifted for half a mile or more. And meanwhile DPR continues their “study” of one of the most thoroughly studied pesticides currently used in California – a process that will take months or even years.
During those months and years, countless more babies and children may suffer irreversible harm. And by second grade, some of them will show up in my classroom.
Oscar Ramos is a second-grade teacher at Sherwood Elementary School in Salinas, president of the Salinas Elementary Teachers Council, and recipient of the California Teachers Association Cesar Chavez “Sí, Se Puede” Human Rights Award.