Protestors gather outside the state pesticide office in Clovis Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Breanna Hardy
Written by Breanna Hardy
Fresno and Tulare County families living in rural communities are asking for transparency in pesticide application.
A group of families rallied together outside the California Department of Pesticide Regulation office in Clovis Tuesday to advocate for the health and safety of children and pregnant people after 13 pesticides were linked to childhood cancer.
The study of pesticides was performed by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, which linked leukemia and brain tumors to the fetuses in utero if the parent lived within 2.5 miles of the applications.
Central Environmental Justice and the Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety are advocating not to wait years or decades for ag officials to act on behalf of these rural communities.
Advocates are asking ag commissioners to notify the public of when and where they are spraying pesticides, and to post warnings online so that families can take precautionary measures against breathing in harmful chemicals.
They are also calling on the state to initiate public health policies for pesticide regulations and agricultural systems, similar to the U.S. Senate’s proposed Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act. The act seeks to modify provisions related to the distribution, sale and use of pesticides.
Angel Garcia, organizing director for Tulare County Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety, said the next steps are to keep engaging state leaders so that families are heard in their concerns for their children’s health.
“We cannot wait until 2024 to make that happen, but rather do it in phases,” he said.
Garcia is asking that, in the first phase of change, ag commissioners post warnings or notifications in real time when applying pesticides.
“It’s something that does not require regulation, it’s something that does not need to be going through the legislature. It’s simply something that ag commissioners can do that is within their jurisdiction,” Garcia said.
Ag commissioners, Garcia says, put out many reasons as to why they can’t accommodate these requests for notification – namely, that it would provoke activists to stop these applications midway. Garcia called these reasons absurd.
“If you look around, these are not activists. These are real families that happen to live here in close proximity to fields that are heavily sprayed with pesticides,” he said.
Tulare County Ag Commissioner Tom Tucker said that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation has already announced that it’s moving forward and budgeting for a notification program.
And on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, the Department of Pesticide Regulation will host webinars to provide the public with opportunities to provide input into the department’s statewide notification system. Central Valley advocates are expected to be present. The statewide notification system is set to take full effect in 2024.
“Our goal is to increase transparency and provide equitable access to information about pesticide applications,” said DPR Acting Director Julie Henderson. “This will provide an opportunity for the public to make their own decisions about additional health precautions they want to take to protect themselves and their families. We believe this is also an opportunity to strengthen the engagement between DPR, County Agricultural Commissioners and the communities we serve.”
The development of this system will build on DPR and California’s existing regulatory framework, providing the public with the opportunity to receive a real-time notification about pesticide applications occurring nearby, Henderson added.
Garcia and fellow advocates are asking for change now, rather than in a couple years.
For Tulare County, however, Tucker already operates a neighborly notification system, where residents are made aware of pesticide sprays before they happen so that parents can close windows, doors and keep their children inside.
“I can get behind or support a notification program that will notify residents about a planned application to an adjacent field,” said Tucker.
He said Tulare County has been operating this way for many years now.
“It’s simply a good neighbor policy,” Tucker said.
Ag commissioners are supposed to protect all people, and it’s the nature of the job, he said. He does back a statewide notification system, provided that it does what it’s intended to do so that both rural communities and growers are happy.
“I think the growers would be fine with that, and it’ll work well for everybody,” Tucker said.