Today, PANNA and a number of environmental health and community groups sued California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) for failing to uphold the Toxic Air Contaminant (TAC) law. The law, enacted in 1984, requires DPR to assess pesticides as potential air contaminants, and to regulate them in order to protect public health.
More than 900 pesticides are registered in California, yet in the last 20 years DPR has completed the review process for only four. Of the 172 million pounds of pesticides used in 2002 in the state, more than 90% are prone to drifting from application sites as airborne toxins.
Pesticides are a major component of air pollution in California’s Central Valley. According to the California Air Resources Board, pesticides are among the top three contributors to ozone pollution (smog) in the San Joaquin Valley, and account for nearly 10% of the ozone-forming gases produced in the region. High levels of ozone trigger asthma attacks and exacerbate other respiratory illnesses. In 2002, asthma rates in Fresno County were the highest in the state, and the third highest in the nation. Nearly one-third of pesticides used in California are also associated with serious chronic and acute health problems, such as cancer or nervous system damage.
“Millions of Californians are exposed to airborne pesticides against their will. Like secondhand smoke, these ‘secondhand pesticides’ put us at risk of serious health problems such as asthma, cancer and neurological damage,” said Susan Kegley of Pesticide Action Network. “For over 20 years, DPR has ignored its duty to uphold the Toxic Air Contaminant law and shirked its responsibility to protect the health of Californians.”
Pesticides are the largest source of toxic substances released into the environment in California. In 2002, pesticide use accounted for the release of 5.7 times more toxic materials to the environment than manufacturing, mining, or refining facilities, as reported through U.S EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. If enforced, the TAC law would provide an important tool to reduce a major source of Central Valley air pollution.
“When state agencies like DPR refuse to implement the law, communities like mine suffer the consequences,” said John Mataka of Grayson Neighborhood Council in Stanislaus County. “Pesticides are a double health hazard because they’re toxic and they cause air pollution. Here in the San Joaquin Valley, we breathe polluted air, have the highest rates of asthma in the state and suffer from other chronic diseases like cancer because DPR allows industrial agriculture to continue with business as usual.”
The lawsuit was filed by Pesticide Action Network North America, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Grayson Neighborhood Council, Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper, Neighbors at Risk, Association of Irritated Residents, and Community and Children’s Advocates Against Pesticide Poisoning. The plaintiffs want DPR to comply with its duty under TAC to assess pesticide toxic air pollutants, to take action to reduce the health impacts of these air pollutants, and to comply with the sections of the law requiring public transparency and input, including review by an independent Scientific Review Panel and substantive cooperation with California’s Air Resources Board and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). The plaintiffs also seek to ensure that risk assessment and mitigation measures for pesticide air pollutants are completed and implemented on a timely schedule.
Source: Press Release, PANNA and Californians for Pesticide Reform, January 19, 2005.
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