Residents from California’s farming regions converged on Sacramento today to deliver over 25,000 petition signatures and a letter representing hundreds of thousands of Californians, all demanding protections for their children from exposure to agricultural pesticides at school.
For Immediate Release: July 12, 2016
Sacramento, CA – More than 150 community members, mostly from the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast, staged a rally outside the headquarters of CalEPA and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) this morning before delivering over 25,000 petition signatures and a letter signed by more than 100 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Californians, all calling on DPR to release long-awaited new protections for children at school.
Community members are calling on DPR to establish one-mile buffer zones around public schools, licensed day care facilities, school bus stops and known school routes for the most hazardous agricultural pesticides. Advocates are also calling for new notification requirements for all other pesticides, increased air monitoring at schools known to have the highest levels of exposure, and direct support for farmers to reduce their reliance on hazardous and drift-prone pesticides.
“We’ve waited too long for DPR to unveil their plan to protect children in California from chemicals that are associated with some truly horrific health harming agents that are affecting our children, including cancer, asthma, ADHD, autism, and damaging effects to their neurological and reproductive systems,” said Ana Barrera, Salinas public school teacher and labor delegate for the Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers. “With the new school year fast approaching, it’s time for DPR to act.”
Momentum for new protections has been building steadily since the California Department of Public Health (DPH) released a groundbreaking report in 2014 “Agricultural Pesticide Use Near Public Schools in California,” which for the first time documented the extent to which hazardous and difficult-to-control pesticides are used in close proximity to schools in fifteen counties in the state’s agricultural heartland. Many of the more than 140 pesticides in use near schools are linked to negative impacts on children’s health and learning. Five of the pesticides heavily used near schools are fumigants—the most dangerous and drift-prone pesticides on the market, applied as gases to the soil before crops are planted. Fumigant exposure can lead to cancer, reproductive and developmental harms and immediate poisoning.
Because many agricultural pesticides are hard to control, even when applied according to product instructions, drift incidents occur near schools far too often. Last October, twenty students and eight staff were sickened by exposure to pesticide drift at Coachella Valley High School. The investigation of this incident took more than six months to complete, and resulted in a fine of $5,000 for the violator – far short of the maximum $140,000 fine that could have been levied. Other incidents occurred over the past year in Monterey, Kern and Fresno Counties.
“Pesticides do not stay in the fields and orchards where they are applied,” said Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Many of the pesticides applied near schools are known to drift great distances during and after applications—sometimes for days afterwards.” In fact, a comprehensive report of drift-related pesticide poisoning incidents found that 82 percent of the fumigant-related cases occurred more than a quarter mile from the application site.
Moreover, there are significant racial disparities in pesticide exposure, with the DPH report revealing that Latino schoolchildren are almost twice as likely as their white peers to attend one of the most impacted schools. In Monterey County, that figure rises to 320 percent.
“Pesticide exposure is a racial and environmental justice issue for the predominantly Latino farmworker communities in California that bear the brunt of agriculture’s unsustainable reliance on hazardous pesticides,” said Caroline Farrell, Executive Director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “All of California’s children deserve to attend school in safety, regardless of race, place or income.”
Since the report’s 2014 release, pressure has steadily mounted on DPR to address the issue of pesticide exposure, which has increasingly been shown to rob children of their health and potential. In the face of the report’s damning findings, DPR announced their intention to release new regulations for schools, holding a series of “Listening Sessions” around the state in May and June 2015 to hear directly from residents.
In the year since DPR’s listening sessions, a growing body of evidence has emerged to decisively link pesticide exposure to children’s health harms:
- A report by UCLA’s Sustainable Technology and Policy Program released in February found that four fumigant pesticides, among the most commonly used near schools, may react synergistically through identified mechanisms when used in combination, increasing cancer risk by more than just their sum. DPR regulates these pesticides individually, and does not generally consider the cumulative impact of pesticides commonly used in combination.
- A study by UC Berkeley’s Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) found that chronic exposure to organophosphate pesticides can damage lung function in children about as much as second-hand smoke. The organophosphate chlorpyrifos is the eighth most commonly used pesticide applied within ¼ mile of California schools.
- Pesticide Action Network’s report “Kids on the Frontline” aggregated the extensive and growing body of science that demonstrates a compelling link between pesticide exposure and a range of health harms, including asthma, autism, ADHD, obesity and childhood cancers.
While pesticides can also be harmful to adults, medical and public health experts warn that children may be in even greater jeopardy.
“Pesticides pose the greatest threat to children, especially the very young,” said Carole Erickson, RN, PHN, co-chair of Safe Ag, Safe Schools. “Their developing brains and bodies are vulnerable to severe and permanent harm from even small amounts of exposure. And pound-for-pound, they drink more water, breathe more air, and eat more food than adults, so they absorb higher concentrations of pesticides than adults do.”
At today’s rally, community leaders delivered more than 25,000 petition signatures to DPR. Signatures were collected by Pesticide Action Network, United Farm Workers, CREDO, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, Center for Environmental Health, Food & Water Watch, and Friends of the Earth.
Californians for Pesticide Reform is a diverse, statewide coalition of over 190 member groups working to strengthen pesticide policies in California to protect public health and the environment. Member groups include public and children's health advocates, clean air and water groups, health practitioners, environmental justice groups, labor, education, farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates from across the state.