July 30, 2016

CPR Megaphoneby Catherine Porter, JD

San Francisco Bay Area PSR joined farming community members and other health advocates in a rally outside the headquarters of the California Environmental Protection (CalEPA) and the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) organized by the coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform. We gathered to demand the release of long-awaited new protections for school children. Our message was strengthened with over 27,000 supporting signatures hand-delivered to DPR. Rally speakers included representatives from affected communities such as farmworkers and their families, teachers, and labor organizations mostly from the Central Valley and the Central Coast.

Our demand to DPR is clear: Establish full-time one-mile buffer zones between fields where the most hazardous agricultural pesticides are used, and places where children and teachers gather to learn and teach such as public schools, licensed day care facilities, school bus stops, and known school bus routes. The coalition is also calling for new notification requirements, increasing air monitoring at schools that are already known to have the highest exposure levels, and supporting farmers transitioning to safer pest management practices.  Many of the pesticides used near schools are especially harmful to young children’s health and learning.

Demand for more protective standards from DPR has been building since the California Department of Public Health (DPH) released a report in 2014 which, for the first time, documented the extent to which hazardous and difficult-to-control pesticides, including 5 fumigants, are used in close proximity to schools in 15 counties in California’s agricultural regions.

Fumigants are applied to soils before planting and are extremely drift-prone. Among the health effects associated with these hazardous substances are cancer, reproductive and developmental harm, and acute poisoning. Other agricultural pesticides are linked to asthma, ADHD, autism, and other harmful neurological impacts. For instance, chlorpyrifos, a highly persistent chemical which can cause long-term neurological deficits, is used within  a  quarter-mile of the schools in the 15 counties assessed by the DPH.  Additionally, exposure patterns reveal a background of social and environmental injustice in that Latino schoolchildren are almost twice as likely as their white peers to attend a school that is heavily impacted by pesticides.

As Annie Barrera, Salinas public school teacher and representative of Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers said, “With the new school year fast approaching, it’s time for DPR to act.”  We agree with Ms. Barrera and urge CalEPA and DPR to take swift action to protect the health of children and the people entrusted to teach them. Establish one-mile buffer zones now!