Protecting children from pesticides. What could be more straightforward than that? Science clearly shows that children — from the tiniest newborn all the way through high school — are much more vulnerable to the impacts of pesticide exposure than adults. And state data shows that rural California kids are regularly exposed to pesticides drifting from agricultural fields into their schools and daycare centers.
We hope that's about to change. Thanks to all the work that communities across the state have done, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is expected to release new rules on the use of agricultural pesticides near schools later this month. Finally!
We hope DPR will take into account the significant public support for buffer zones that are big enough to protect children from health-harming pesticide applications near both schools and institutional daycares. Kids of all ages deserve strong protections.
Protective, one-mile buffers
The history of California schoolchildren being harmed by pesticide drift is distressing, and clearly shows that justice for those suffering the consequences of exposure is slow and uneven. Data from the California’s Department of Public Health shows that Latino children remain at the frontline of pesticide exposures in California's farming communities.
We’re waiting to see exactly what DPR proposes to protect kids from pesticides drifting into schools and daycare centers. My colleague Emily Marquez, the PAN scientist who co-authored our most recent report on the impact of pesticides on children's health, explains why this drift is a problem:
Prenatal and early childhood exposure to a range of common pesticides increases the risk of developmental disorders and delays, as well as of childhood cancers and respiratory problems. From the brain to the reproductive organs, the body’s systems undergo rapid changes at various stages throughout childhood. Interference from pesticides at critical moments of development — even at very low levels — can derail the process in ways that lead to significant health harms that can last a lifetime.
The evidence supporting the need for a one-mile buffer zone is quite compelling. The first comprehensive report of drift-related pesticide poisonings in the U.S. found that 85 percent of those affected would have been protected by a one-mile buffer zone. The authors of this study expressed concern about the inadequacy of ¼-mile buffer zones, which are currently implemented in some California counties.
Meanwhile, evidence of the problematic impact of exposure keeps rolling in. The most recent study out of the long-term UC Berkeley research project, CHAMACOS, indicates a link between prenatal pesticide exposure and falling IQs within a one kilometer (0.62 mile) radius of application. A UC Davis MIND Institute study documented significantly increased rates of autism in children of mothers who lived up to one mile from fields.
An earlier study from CHAMACOS documented the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos contaminating homes up to 1.8 miles from treated fields. The California Childhood Leukemia study found elevated concentrations of several pesticides in the dust of homes up to 0.75 miles from the fields where they were sprayed. These studies — and many others — show that a one-mile separation from pesticide use could reduce the risk of some of the worst long-term health harms for children, including leukemia and autism.
Get this right, DPR
Not only should there be one-mile buffer zones, but for the most hazardous pesticides and application methods, these protective areas should be in place at all times — whether the school or daycare is in session or not. Students, teachers and community members are often on school grounds for scheduled events and unscheduled activities in off-school hours. Plus children can be exposed to pesticides even after the application activity ends, as many pesticides continue to evaporate and drift long after they are applied.
We hope DPR has been carefully considering all the scientific evidence supporting the need for a one-mile buffer zone, including the impacts of pesticide exposure on children of all ages. We also hope they will work with other agencies to get the farmers the support they need to continue productively farming their land without reliance on chemicals that put children's health at risk.
Once the draft rules are released, people from across the state will have a chance to provide written statements and testimony into the department’s public comment docket. DPR should also organize in-person public comment workshops around the state to give communities another opportunity to underscore the importance of protecting our kids from pesticides in rural California.
PAN and our allies from Californians for Pesticide Reform will continue to press state officials to get this right — stay tuned for ways to participate in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a toolkit that can help you get ready for action!