Parents, Teachers and Health Professionals Urge Comprehensive Rules to Protect Schoolchildren from Pesticides | Pesticide Action Network
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Parents, Teachers and Health Professionals Urge Comprehensive Rules to Protect Schoolchildren from Pesticides

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Media Release: July 27, 2015

Contact: Paul Towers, PAN, 916-216-1082, ptowers@panna.org

Sacramento, Calif – This Friday, officials at the California Department of Regulation will wrap up the initial phase of public input on new efforts to protect schoolchildren from nearby use of hazardous agricultural pesticides. After a series of public workshops across the state, the agency will now begin drafting new rules. With schools set to open in the coming weeks, affected communities and health professionals are calling for strong protections for California schoolchildren.

“Teachers, parents and their communities have spoken out,” said Francisco Rodriguez, a special education teacher and leader of the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers. “It’s time to protect our children and eliminate the use of outdated and hazardous pesticides that can harm their bodies and brains near our schools.”

Hundreds of people attended the hearings in five different parts of the state, expressing their support for stronger restrictions on pesticides linked to cancer, learning disabilities and asthma – and support for sustainable farming around schools.

Third-grade teacher Melissa Dennis was one of them. As she wrapped up report cards in June she was surprised by how many students can’t keep up. “I work with students every day that are struggling because they don’t understand concepts in the classroom,” she told the Monterey County Weekly. “We all suspect prolonged exposure to pesticides is causing a lot of the difficulties we’re seeing with kids learning.”

Citing research from the University of California, community and statewide children’s health groups are pressing for comprehensive, one-mile no-spray buffer zones around schools and prohibition on methods like fumigation, aerial application and air blasters. These methods often lead to greater instances of pesticide drift that ends up in air around schools and potentially in classrooms.

“Studies in California have shown that pesticides drift from agricultural applications into residential communities even at some distance away,” said Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, MPH, a professor at the UC Davis and lead researcher of the CHARGE study.

Department officials have also considered additional notification requirements when applications are made in close proximity to schools. Many hearing participants and advocates made it clear that notification alone is not a substitute for meaningful protections, and place an unfair burden on parents and schools rather than on applicators.

“The Department of Pesticide Regulation should create comprehensive, clear and consistent protections from hazardous pesticides around schools,” said Dr. Medha Chandra, PhD, campaign coordinator at Pesticide Action Network. “Warnings are good, but not nearly enough to protect children against highly volatile pesticides.”   

More than a year after the California Department of Public Health released its groundbreaking report documenting pesticide use near schools in agricultural counties, officials at the Department of Pesticide Regulation began considering steps to protect children from volatile and hazardous pesticides, including investments in safer agricultural practices. Since then, the handful of existing state and independent monitors have confirmed that pesticides are regularly drifting great distances from fields, including near schools.

“The Department must do something meaningful. Too often, after years of research and public input, DPR adopts virtually meaningless measures that do not significantly reduce exposure. This is particularly bad news for rural, predominantly Latino communities, and Latino schoolchildren, who face the brunt of exposure in California. And it flies in the face of civil justice,” said Sarah Aird, executive director of Californians for Pesticide Reform. “All schoolchildren, regardless of geography or race, deserve to be protected from hazardous and volatile agricultural pesticides, and we hope and expect DPR will take significant steps.” 

A draft of the rules is expected by the end of 2015, and new rules are expected to be implemented in 2017. Teachers and children’s health advocates are pressing state officials to finalize the rules in time for the beginning of the 2016 school year.

"The scientific evidence linking early life and childhood exposures to pesticides and long-term impacts on health and development is strong and warrants action," added Dr. Hertz-Piccotto with the UC Davis MIND Institute.

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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.

Pesticide Action Network North America is part of a global network advancing socially just, environmentally sound alternatives to pesticides that prioritize farmworkers, small-scale farmers, indigenous peoples, and frontline communities.