For Immediate Release: May 8, 2020
Adam Vega, 805-312-6875, firstname.lastname@example.org
Patty Pagaling, 805-646-4294, email@example.com
“Every home is a school”: State orders counties to protect children learning at home from pesticide exposure
Ojai, CA: Counties should use their full authority to guarantee the same protections from pesticide exposure at home that are already legally required for schools – and be prepared to back it up with stiff fines. That’s according to new executive guidance issued Thursday by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The guidance reminds county agricultural commissioners that a 2018 regulation restricting drift-prone pesticide applications during the school day was intended to protect children from exposure in their place of learning. Now that every home is a potential school, that order applies much more broadly.
The order directs county agricultural commissioners to “take a strict approach to assessing penalties,” noting that “violations that occur near homes or schools during the emergency should be considered “Class A” violations and should carry fines at the top of the range.” The order was welcomed by community members in California’s agricultural regions who have long called for greater protections at home.
“Here in Ojai, there is growing concern about widespread pesticide use near our homes. Our local coalition recently appealed to the governor to grant extra protection for children sheltering in place in their homes during this emergency,” said Patty Pagaling, executive director of Ojai-based Transition to Organics. “We are grateful to the administration for this bold action. We’d say to all Californians, if there’s a pesticide application near your home, you should report it to your county agricultural commissioner.”
The order reminds County Agricultural Commissioners that they are required to consider the potential impact of an application on homes where children are present before issuing any permit to use pesticides classified as Restricted Materials. Protections for schools are still in place, in recognition of the continued role schools play as centers of community, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This order recognizes the extraordinary importance of schools in the current crisis, especially for ensuring children don’t go hungry,” said Adam Vega, coordinator of the Ventura County Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety. ”The protections in place for schools and daycares must be preserved and extended so that children aren’t harmed by hazardous pesticide exposure. Right now, every home is a school.”
In the current crisis, farmworkers have been reclassified as “essential workers” who risk their lives and health to keep America fed. But preliminary studies have shown that COVID-19 mortality is higher for people living with high levels of air pollution, which includes farmworking communities throughout California. The San Joaquin Valley, where much of the nation’s produce is grown with vast pesticide inputs, has some of the nation’s worst air quality. COVID-19 also poses the highest risk to people with preexisting respiratory conditions such as asthma. Pesticides are known to be a major contributor to the epidemic of childhood asthma in the San Joaquin Valley, where the rate is 1 in 6.
While public health advocates applauded the order’s intent, there is broad concern about how well it will be enforced. “This order reminds County Agricultural Commissioners of their pre-existing obligation to protect children and other vulnerable populations,” said Sarait Martinez, organizing director with the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform. ”What we really need in order to make it stick is advance warning to families before the most hazardous pesticides are used nearby. It’s crazy that Californians don’t have this information.”
Californians for Pesticide Reform is a diverse, statewide coalition of over 190 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. Ventura County Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety (VC CAPS) is a member of the CPR network.