After years of pressure from communities across the state, California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) finally released their proposed new rules to protect schoolchildren from the harms of agricultural pesticides. While we’re glad the draft regulations are finally out, the proposed rules leave a lot to be desired.
DPR's proposal fails to address the fundamental asks of communities across the state: full-time, one-mile no-spray buffer zones around schools and institutional daycares for the most hazardous agricultural pesticides. Communities are also calling for better advance notice of upcoming pesticide applications for both schools and neighborhoods.
Join us in urging DPR to follow the science on children's health — and really listen to what agricultural communities want and need to protect their kids from pesticides.
DPR's draft regulations continue to put low-income schoolchildren of color, especially Latino kids, at a disproportionately high risk of exposure to pesticides — including those that cause cancer, harms to brain function and other long term impacts.
In its 2014 report on agricultural pesticide use near public schools, the California Department of Public Health (DPH) documented that in the 15 counties they studied, Latino schoolchildren were 91 percent more likely than white students to be exposed to the highest levels of hazardous pesticides. We've reported in previous blogs on the long-standing problem of unjust burdens of exposure to pesticides faced by Latino kids.
Pesticide drift incidents near schools occur regularly in the agricultural regions of California, harming students and teachers alike. In February of this year, aerial spraying of a potent insecticide took place during school hours in the Pajaro Valley School District in Monterey County, causing an outcry among staff and parents. In October last year, an application across the street from Coachella Valley High School in Riverside County made 20 students and eight staff ill. The applicator paid a $5,000 fine for the violation, far short of the maximum $140,000 that could have been levied.
These incidents are but a few examples from a legacy of disproportionate harm to Latino kids. This is environmental injustice. DPR can help address this issue by putting full-time, one-mile buffer zones in place around schools and daycares.
Part-time, inadequate protections
In addition, it's beyond baffling that DPR is proposing that buffer zones would only be in place from 6am to 6pm on school days. This kind of part-time protection is unacceptable and dangerous. A pesticide could be applied at 5am on a school day, with kids coming to school within two to three hours of that application and facing potentially hazardous exposures. It also means no protection for evening, after-school hours, weekends or summer months — when children could be using school grounds for games, practices or classes.
The size of DPR's proposed buffer zones — just one-quarter mile around schools and daycares for the most drift-prone application methods — is inadequate as well. The methods covered by the new rules include fumigation, aerial, air-blast and sprinkler applications. Much smaller, or no, buffer zones have been proposed for less drift-prone application methods, even for more hazardous pesticides such as organophosphates.
Strong science supports bigger buffers
The science is very clear: the proposed rules will not adequately protect the state’s children living in agricultural areas. Studies show that both exposure and health damage can occur from applications even more than a mile away. Here's a small sampling of this research:
- One national report on drift-related pesticide poisonings found that in eleven states (including California), 85 percent of people impacted would have been protected by a one-mile buffer zone, and 76 percent of the cases occurred at distances more than one-quarter mile from the application site.
- A UC Berkeley CHAMACOS study documented chlorpyrifos, a potent neurotoxin, in homes up to 1.8 miles from treated fields.
- A UC Davis MIND Institute study documented significantly increased rates of autism in children of mothers who lived up to one mile from treated fields during pregnancy.
- The California Childhood Leukemia study found elevated concentrations of several pesticides in dust of homes up to three-quarters of a mile from treated fields.
And to top it all off, pesticides are not used singly in real-world conditions — yet DPR regulates these chemicals one at a time. A February 2016 study from UCLA showed that three of the fumigants most commonly used near schools in California — chloropicrin, 1,3-dichloropropene (Telone) and metam salts — are routinely applied in the same area, either together or one right after the other. It turns out that exposure to any two of these pesticides in combination can increase cancer risk by more than just their sum.
Local control, support for farmers
DPR's proposed statewide regulations could potentially override stronger county level protections when they exist. This is very concerning, as a number of California counties have already implemented quarter-mile buffer zones around schools for restricted pesticides.
Imperial County permit conditions go further, specifying protection zones of one mile for aerial applications and MITC soil injection, and one-half mile for ground applications of restricted pesticides. San Luis Obispo, Kern and San Bernardino counties all have rules in place that are more protective than DPR's new proposal; these protections could potentially be rolled back under the new proposed statewide regulations.
We're calling on DPR to work with other state agencies to ensure that in addition to adequately protecting our children, the new rules help farmers successfully transition away from reliance on harmful pesticides. The agency should take steps to ensure technical and financial assistance is provided to growers who want to use safer farming methods.
The public comment period on these inadequate rules ends on November 17. Please join us in telling DPR that they must:
- Put one-mile, no-spray buffer zones in place for the most hazardous pesticides around schools in agricultural areas;
- Ensure these buffer zones remain in place 24 hours a day, seven days a week;
- Notify parents and community members about pesticide applications well in advance; and
- Protect the right of counties to put stronger rules in place based on their local conditions and needs.