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Groundbreaking Report Finds High Rates of Pesticide Use Near Monterey County Schools
SALINAS, CA—A coalition of teachers, school children, health advocates, labor leaders, and their supporters have responded to a recent report that documents, for the first time, widespread pesticide use near California schools, including in Monterey County (see PDF). Many of the pesticides profiled are used in large amounts and linked to impacts on children’s health and learning. The coalition, which includes Californians for Pesticide Reform and the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, has called for reforms in addressing pesticide use to protect children in Monterey County.
Monterey County had the highest percentage of schoolchildren attending schools located within ¼ mile of the heaviest use of highly hazardous pesticides, according to the California Department of Public Health (DPH) study. More than a quarter (25.1%) of schoolchildren (18,525) in Monterey County attended schools within ¼ mile of the most highly hazardous pesticide use. Over 46% of the county’s schools were located within ¼ mile of the most highly hazardous pesticide use. Monterey County schoolchildren were among the most at risk statewide, with the highest percentage of students (19.5%) near the use of carcinogenic pesticides, the highest percentage of students (22.1%) near the use of reproductive and developmental toxicant pesticides, the highest percentage of students (16.4%) near the use of fumigant pesticides, the highest percentage of students near Toxic Air Contaminants (18%) and the highest percentage of students (24.7%) near the use of pesticides prioritized for assessment and monitoring.
“As a teacher, I’m most worried about Monterey County schoolchildren. I’m worried that if these children are exposed to even very small amounts of a harmful pesticide, the impacts can be severe and possibly irreversible,” said Pat Egan, 30-year Alisal High School teacher in Salinas.
Jesus Valenzuela of the United Farm Workers (UFW) Foundation commented, “The children demonstrate the effects of pesticide poisoning before anybody else. It’s time to stop treating our children like society’s canaries in a coal mine when it comes to pesticides, as Cesar Chavez used to say.”
The detailed report “Agricultural Pesticide Use Near Public Schools in California” was posted to DPH’s website on Friday afternoon with little fanfare. The rigorous analysis shows that difficult-to-control pesticides, linked to negative impacts on children’s health and learning, are widely used near schoolchildren in fifteen of the state’s counties. This is the first time an analysis of pesticide use near schools has been conducted in California. Children’s health advocates today released a summary of key findings in DPH’s groundbreaking report as well as policy recommendations in “Protecting their Potential: Ensuring California’s school children are safe from hazardous pesticides.”
Children’s health advocates are calling on state and federal policymakers to take immediate action to protect children’s health and intelligence by reducing and eliminating the use of the most hazardous pesticides. Specific recommendations include:
• Make significant investments in research and support for growers to transition California to safe, sustainable replacements for fumigants and chlorpyrifos by 2020.
• Establish large “protection zones” around schools to maximize the distance between schools and pesticide applications.
• Require notification of schools and parents before applications of hazardous pesticides.
Unfortunately, agency officials missed an important opportunity last week to educate state legislators and influence policy change that could have protected school children’s health from pesticides by releasing the report on Friday. Last Thursday afternoon, the California Senate’s Agriculture Committee failed to pass legislation (SB 1411 - Jackson) requiring that homes and schools be notified in advance of applications of the most hazardous pesticides.
Californians for Pesticide Reform is a diverse, statewide coalition of over 185 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.
The Monterey Bay Central Labor Council is the local body of the AFL-CIO. Over 60 unions are affiliated with the MBCLC, representing more than 30,000 union members and their families in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.