Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Poised for progress on drift

Kristin Schafer's picture

Well, it's about time. The invisible problem of pesticide drift is on the policy radar in ways it's never been before — with changes in the wings that could protect kids and communities in very real ways. But these changes won't happen unless we keep the pressure on.

From California to the Midwest to our nation's capital, drift is now a focus of public concern and policy conversation. And as the science linking pesticide exposure to children's health harms continues to stack up, pressure to protect kids from pesticide drift is growing stronger as well.

Here's the deal: In response to legal action by PAN and our partners — based in part on our on-the-ground data from community Drift Catchers — EPA is now taking a closer look at how pesticide drift can put children in farm communities at risk. They're assessing both "spray drift" and "volatilization drift," and are considering changes in how they assess drift-prone chemical products.

This is a very good thing. While we don't think their proposed changes go nearly far enough, at least there's a conversation in play. Earlier this month, PAN and our partners at United Farm Workers submitted more than 15,000 signatures from supporters across the country urging EPA to act quickly to protect kids and communities from drift. And we plan to keep the pressure on.

States are paying attention, too

At the state level, concerns about kids and pesticide drift are bubbling to the surface as well. New science is boosting public awareness about the issue, and state officials are taking note. Some examples from just the past few months:

  • According to data released by the state Department of Public Health this spring, nearly 500,000 California children attend school within 1/4 mile of pesticide applications every year. Drift-prone fumigants and the controversial brain-harming insecticide chlorpyrifos are at the top of the list. 
  • Recent science links prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticide drift to increased risk of autism and developmental delays.
  • California's Department of Pesticide Regulation is reviewing chlorpyrifos, and officials face growing public pressure to take a leadership role (rather than wait for federal EPA to do something), given the evidence of harm to the state's children.
  • Concern is growing among farmers and and rural communities in Iowa and other midwestern states about the potential impacts of drift-prone herbicides, particularly in the face of newly proposed GE crops designed to be used with the extremely volatile, antiquated and toxic 2,4-D.

It's gratifying to see the problem of drift beginning to get the attention it deserves. Now it's a matter of ensuring the next step: action in a timeframe that matters!

Kristin Schafer
Share this post: 

is PAN's Program & Policy Director. With training in international policy and social change strategies, Kristin oversees PAN’s program work. She has been lead author on several PAN reports, with a particular emphasis on children’s health. She serves on the Policy Committee of the Children’s Environmental Health Network. Follow @KristinAtPAN