Originally published in the Salinas Californian. Access online at https://www.thecalifornian.com/story/opinion/soapboxes/2015/05/11/time-implement-wider-school-pesticide-buffer-zones/27136727/
As a teacher, I know the difference between “truthiness” and science, and I want to assure Mr. Jim Bogart of the Grower-Shipper Association that mine is a science-based concern when it comes to the threat of pesticides to schoolchildren.
The Department of Public Health (DPH)’s Agricultural Pesticide Use Near Public Schools in California report was published at the end of April 2014. It showed that Monterey County schoolchildren are the most likely of all schoolchildren in the state to attend schools within 1/4-mile of the heaviest use of highly hazardous pesticide — those capable of causing cancer, reproductive and developmental harm and damage to the nervous system. It also indicated that other counties have far greater protections for schoolchildren, including buffer zones several times larger and required advanced notification of schools.
Ah, but Mr. Bogart says that study doesn’t measure exposure nor predict health risks of these pesticides applied near our schools. Indeed, there are numerous other scientific studies — many conducted in the Monterey Bay area — that address exposure and health risk. As a man who claims to put so much weight on scientific inquiry, I’m surprised Mr. Bogart did not note them in his editorial.
Since he didn’t, I’ll offer a brief sampling of scientific studies within the past year in the Monterey Bay area alone:
Chloropicrin, the drift-prone fumigant and lung-damaging agent, has been recorded above the state’s concentration levels of health concern much further from the fields where the fumigant was applied than state proposed “buffer zones” and much further from fields than many schools in my district and others in Monterey County.
The CalEPA and DPR recorded concentrations 40 percent above levels of health concern at the Salinas airport in 2013 (“Air monitoring network results for 2013, Volume 3,” December 2014). The airport is more than 1/4-mile from fields.
At the request of a Watsonville resident, Pesticide Action Network scientists last November conducted a study that found chloropicrin in the air at his home at concentrations far exceeding levels of health concern days after the pesticide was applied and at distances several times further away than the state recommended “buffer zones.”
1,3-Dichloropropene/Telone, the toxic air contaminant and carcinogen, has been found in the air at concentrations exceeding state regulatory cancer risk levels at both the Salinas Airport (2011) and Ohlone Elementary (2012), according to the Department of Pesticide Regulation study (DPR Memorandum, “Methyl bromide and 1,3-Dichloropropene air monitoring results,” September 24, 2014). Because growers can “bank” their unused Telone allotments from previous years, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that “[n]ear New Republic Elementary [in the Santa Rita school district] … 1.3 million pounds more 1,3-D than the original rules allowed” were applied.
Chlorpyrifos has been linked to increased incidences of autism, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems when pregnant mothers lived within one mile of chlorpyrifos field applications, according to studies by University of California scientists. The 2014 UC Davis report, “Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides” drew from studies in the Salinas Valley among others, while building upon ongoing research by UC Berkeley scientists that has found chlorpyrifos in the bodies of women and children in the Salinas area, the CHAMACOS study.
The World Health Organization just announced there is evidence the pesticide diazinon causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer. More than one-third of all diazinon used in California was applied in Monterey County (“Use of Monsanto pesticide linked to cancer has boomed in California,” Center for Investigative Reporting, March 27, 2015).
It is clear that the current regulatory mechanisms are not protecting children and adults from these dangerous health-threatening pesticides. We know that despite tarps, as well as refraining from applying fumigants within a buffer zone during school hours, the air is still contaminated with pesticides at levels that threaten our health. We know that damage can result even when the pesticides are applied far away — a mile away. That’s what science tells us.
County agricultural commissioners have great power concerning the local regulation of pesticides. It’s time for them to implement one-mile protective “buffer zones” around schools and require one week advance notification of nearby hazardous pesticide applications.
Francisco Rodriguez is president of the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers and a member of Safe Strawberry Monterey Bay Working Group.