Originally published in the Salinas Californian. Access online at https://www.thecalifornian.com/story/opinion/2015/12/12/pesticide-drift-continuing-problem-salinas-valley/77172686/
Jim Bogart (Nov. 23) claims we, the Safe Strawberry Monterey Bay Working Group, “routinely ignore government statistics and existing science” but this could not be further from the truth. I submit the following comments, which I shared at the Nov. 17 Monterey County Board of Supervisors meeting, summarizing some of the recent scientific studies on pesticide drift that Mr. Bogart fails to address.
In addition, I echo the Working Group’s call that was announced at the Supervisors’ meeting for the need for a public hearing on the science of pesticide drift.
Drawing from scientific studies, one-mile buffer zones could significantly reduce health risks from drift-prone agricultural pesticides. One-mile buffer zones are needed not only to prevent acute incidents, but also to prevent long-term health impacts of sub-chronic and chronic exposure to hazardous pesticides, impacts such as cancer, developmental delays, asthma and behavioral disorders including ADHD and autism.
The fact is pesticides can drift for miles and miles sometimes in extremely dangerous concentrations. In Monterey County, just 10 years ago on Oct. 5, 2005, a chloropicrin drift incident caused hundreds to experience burning eyes, nausea, vomiting, or difficulty in breathing. A scientific study of the incident in the Journal of Agromedicine, found 324 reporting symptoms of exposure, concluding: “Cases occurred between 0.36 and 2.89 miles from the application site. Use of irritant agricultural fumigants near residential neighborhoods can produce a risk of illness for distances more than 2 miles from the site of application.”
A one-mile buffer would likely cut down substantially on the number and risk of such drift hazards. The first (and only that I’m aware) comprehensive report of drift-related pesticide poisoning in the United States, published in Environmental Health Perspectives four years ago, found that 15 percent of the people affected in pesticide drift incidents were over 1 mile from the pesticide application. This shows both the extended reach of drift incidents and also the real possibility that we can use buffer zones to protect the 85 percent of those who were affected within one mile.
We are concerned about chronic and subchronic exposures to drifting pesticides, as well.
The UC Berkeley CHAMACOS study of Salinas Valley residents has documented chlorpyrifos contamination in homes up to 1.8 miles from treated fields. Last year’s UC Davis MIND Institute study documented significantly increased rates of autism spectrum disorder in children of mothers who lived up to one mile from organophosphate-treated fields, many of these in Monterey County, as well. The 2011 California Childhood Leukemia study found elevated concentrations of several pesticides in dust of homes up to three quarters of a mile from treated fields.
The air-monitoring conducted by the Department of Pesticide Regulation at the Salinas Airport, strongly suggests that drift of one mile or more is contributing to concentrations of health concern. Though there were no 2013 chloropicrin applications within the 1 square-mile section in which the Salinas air monitor is located, it measured 140 percent of sub-chronic health screening level for highest of rolling four-week air concentrations. Chloropicrin is recognized by the state as a toxic air contaminant and is classified as a lung-damaging agent by the Centers for Disease Control.
Other speakers at the Supervisors meeting noted that the state’s air-monitoring studies at Ohlone Elementary School found the fumigant 1,3-dichloropropene (aka 1,3-D or Telone) in concentrations above US Environmental Protection Agency cancer risk levels in 2012. The EPA cancer risk standard is 10 times more lenient than the European Union standard.
These are terrible and powerful toxins. Of course, the best way to ensure the safety of our community from these highly toxic substances is to ban them altogether, as the European Union has already done with seven of the top 10 most used pesticides near Monterey County schools.
If we don’t yet have the will to get rid of them, we must at the very least push them much farther away from children who are most vulnerable. One-mile buffer zones will help protect children and community health.
Dr. Michelle Glowa, PhD in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz, Assistant Professor at the California Institute for Integral Studies, and member of Safe Strawberry Monterey Bay Working Group.