California officials are close to finalizing new policies that could result in some of the strongest rules on pesticide use near schools. But will they fall short? Until April 4, California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is accepting public comment on a proposal to limit the use of the most hazardous pesticides near schools — but thanks to loopholes, this proposal doesn't offer nearly enough protection for schoolkids.
Picture gaseous fumigations, air blasters and aerial applications.
These are the methods that time and time again lead to pesticide drift in the air that can persist for hours, or sometimes days. And pesticides lingering in the air is exactly the on-the-ground reality DPR's new rules fail to account for. As proposed in the latest draft, no-spray buffer zones would apply only on weekdays, 6am-6pm.
Realistically, kids, parents, teachers and staff are present on school grounds well into the evening and on the weekends.
Last fall, I joined journalists at a childcare center that bordered pear orchards and hay fields in the San Joaquin Delta. On an average Thursday morning, just after 5am, farmworker parents dropped their children off — many still sleeping in their arms — transferred them to mats, then headed to the fields for work. Children were present well before "business hours."
Pesticide protections need to be in place around the clock, especially for those chemicals linked to childhood cancers, hormone system disruption or direct damage to developing brains.
As Mark Weller, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, said:
With only part-time protections in place, children and families attending sporting events and other extracurricular activities will still be exposed to pesticides used on nearby fields that scientists have linked to cancer, reproductive harm and brain damage."
What’s being sprayed next to our playground?
In the near-final proposal, DPR officials also scrapped attempts to provide school officials and families with information about when concerning pesticides will be applied on fields next to schools. Without clear and timely notification, schools don't have the information about how best to address poisoning incidents or to work with farming neighbors most effectively.
Officials don’t have to go very far to see that notifications before application can and do work. Francisco Rodriguez, president of the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, noted:
In Santa Cruz County, we’ve had a 5-day notification for quite some time and it has worked well. We see it as a way by which communities, schools and agricultural interests can sit down and have further dialogue about what’s in the best interest of everybody — students first and foremost. The community around the schools wants to know what’s being applied.”
DPR should take the time to listen to what’s working on the ground, and what’s most needed.