Pesticides are an everyday part life in our town. Sometimes we can see or smell the drifting chemicals, sometimes they are invisible. But we know they are there — especially in the fall when fields are fumigated, and this time of year when new plants are sprayed.
So I wasn't surprised when health officials released a report last week showing that children in our part of California — the Central Valley — are most likely to be in schools near pesticide-sprayed fields. We've been telling our stories for years, and unfortunately policymakers haven't heard us. As a mom, I'm very much hoping that maybe now we will see some change.
I immigrated to California in 1988 with my two daughters. I quickly learned that immigrants faced not just a language issue but social, economic and environmental health challenges too. That's why I started the community organization, El Quinto Sol de America.
Several years later, we worked with the scientists at Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Commonweal to have our air and bodies tested for pesticides. The monitoring found the insecticide chlorpyrifos well above the levels EPA says are dangerous to children and pregnant women.
My nephew Luis was part of the project. He was a teenager at the time, and here's what he said about the "BioDrift" project:
"In the place where I live, there are citrus trees and many times during the summer, growers spray pesticides. We can smell it in our homes... We close the windows and turn off the cooler, but... sometimes the temperature will be 105 degrees inside if we don't use the cooler or keep windows open.
I would like to see authorities establish buffer zones around towns, schools and places where people work and live to ensure we are better protected."
Telling our story
Earlier this spring, my nephew and I traveled to Sacramento to tell our story — again — to policymakers there. It's been seven years since the results of our BioDrift project were released.
We delivered more than 12,000 signatures to the Department of Pesticide Regulation, urging them to get chlorpyrifos out of our fields and off our tables. It's just too dangerous to keep using.
A lot of people came to the briefing in the Capitol building on children's health and pesticides. A researcher presented the latest data, and our friends at PAN talked about what pediatricians are saying about the harms of pesticides. I told my story too, and I hope the policymakers were listening.
Giving children their best chance
All of us work hard to give our children their best chance. Having this undermined by breathing, drinking and eating harmful pesticides just isn't right.
We at El Quinto Sol de America are members of Californians for Pesticide Reform, and we support their recommendations. This statewide coalition — made up of dozens of small community groups like ours — is calling for protective zones around schools and neighborhoods where pesticides can't be sprayed, stronger restrictions and phaseouts of the most harmful chemicals like chlorpyrifos, and programs and financial support to help farmers stop using fumigant pesticides.
These are all good ideas, and I — and my nephew Luis — will continue pushing to make them a reality. We hope last week's report on pesticides near schools will help convince policymakers to get going.
Photo credit: womensfoundationofcalifornia.com