PANNA: Cancer-Causing Pesticide Use Rising in California


Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

See PANUPS updates service, for complete information.

Cancer-Causing Pesticide Use Rising in California
May 3, 2000

PANNA Report Shows Total Use Remains Alarmingly High

Use of cancer-causing pesticides in California has more than doubled in the past eight years, up 127% between 1991 and 1998, according to a report released by the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). Since 1996, use of carcinogens has remained within 0.5 million pounds of the highest level ever reported, with no downward trend in sight. The report, Hooked on Poison: Pesticide Use in California 1991-1998, was released by the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform. The coalition was joined by cancer and health organizations and physicians who signed a joint letter to Governor Davis calling for leadership to end the use of carcinogenic pesticides.

Between 1991 and 1998 more than 1.5 billion pounds of pesticides were applied in California including agricultural and non-agricultural uses. Hooked on Poison finds that total reported pesticide use rose 40% between 1991 and 1998, and that over the last three years, use has remained at alarmingly high levels. These use patterns show no trend toward decreasing dependence on toxic pesticides.

Approximately one-third of pesticides used in 1998 are known to be particularly toxic to humans. These pesticides are classified as acute poisons, carcinogens, neurotoxins, reproductive or developmental toxins or are known to have contaminated groundwater in California. Use of these most hazardous, “California Bad Actor” pesticides rose sharply between 1991 and 1998 from 50.4 million pounds to 63.9 million pounds, peaking in 1995.

The total pounds of pesticides used on California cropland increased 51% between 1991 and 1998 — from 129 million pounds of active ingredients to 195 million pounds. During this same time period, the number of acres planted remained approximately constant. The result was a dramatic increase in intensity of pesticide use–up 60% from 14.4 to 23 pounds per acre. One quarter of all pesticides used in the U.S. are applied in California, even though planted acreage in the State represents only 2-3% of total U.S. cropland. Crops that have the highest intensity of pesticide use are strawberries, dates, sweet potatoes, pears and lemons.

Use of pesticides outside of agriculture is extremely difficult to estimate. Only 7% of reported pesticide use falls in this category; however, pesticide sales data indicate that many more pounds of pesticides are applied but not reported. This gross underestimate is due to the fact that there are no requirements to report consumer pesticide use (estimated to be about 20% of total use) and some institutional and manufacturing uses. Non-agricultural applications of pesticides are of particular concern because they are applied in close proximity to where large numbers of people live and work.

The report finds that government agencies have no coherent, long-term strategy guiding growers and other users to transition their pest control practices to least-toxic approaches. It recommends that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency take a proactive stance to reduce pesticide use, including the following elements:

* Phaseout use of the worst pesticides, including carcinogens, acute poisons, reproductive and developmental toxicants, neurotoxins and pesticides that are known to contaminate California groundwater.

* Increase funding and grower support for a transition to least-toxic pest control.

According to PANNA, state and federal agencies currently have an “inadequate, haphazard patchwork of programs and regulations to promote alternatives–but pesticide use trends show these efforts aren’t nearly enough. PANNA calls for a comprehensive plan to research and promote sustainable agriculture.”

The report analyzed data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation annual pesticide use reports from 1991 to 1998, the latest year for which data is available. The Pesticide Use Reporting system tracks use of pesticide active ingredients used commercially in agricultural and urban applications. It does not include consumer or most institutional uses of pesticides.

Copies of Hooked on Poison: Pesticide Use in California 1991-1998, are available from Pesticide Action Network North America at (415) 981-1771. Free to California residents; US$10 for all others. The report is also available at

Source/contact: Pesticide Action Network North America.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

You can join our efforts! We gladly accept donations for our work and all contributions are tax deductible in the United States. Visit our extensive web site at to learn more about getting involved.



Back to top