Controversy over area schools and pesticide drift

Local ag commissioner says new report is inaccurate

By Chris O'Neal 05/01/2014

 

In 2010, 30 percent of Ventura County schools were within one-quarter mile of fields using potentially harmful, carcinogenic pesticides, according to a report released Friday afternoon by the Department of Public Health, making it the highest-ranked county in the state in regard to school proximity to pesticide use.


“This is the first time that they have looked specifically at the nexus between where pesticides are applied in California as that relates to where schools are located,” said Maricela Morales, co-executive director for CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy). “For us, here in Ventura County, finding out that we have the highest number of schools and students near where pesticides are applied is a real wake-up call.”


The report shows that while a majority of schools in the state are either not located near agricultural fields or land and are not affected, Ventura and other agriculture-heavy counties are. In the county, 12 schools with more than 13,000 students are exposed to pesticides considered to have the most harmful effects on humans.


The report’s release came with its own controversy. Anti-pesticide advocates had wanted the report released earlier to coincide with a meeting of the California Senate Agricultural Committee on Thursday morning, during which the committee killed SB 1411 authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, which would have allowed a county agricultural commissioner to adopt regulations to prohibit the agricultural use of any pesticide within a specified distance of a school.


The report also found that Hispanic children were more likely to attend schools in close proximity to fields using pesticides, and an estimated 538,912 pounds of pesticides of concern were used within one-quarter mile of schools in 15 counties analyzed.


“We need to ask our local ag commissioner to really prioritize this issue in terms of making schools aware about when these are being applied,” said Morales. “Ultimately, we know these are toxic, so the real solution is in finding alternatives.”


Ventura County Ag Commissioner Henry Gonzalez disagrees with the implications of the report.


“If the situation were as that report seems to infer, that these children are in danger somehow, it would not be allowed to happen,” said Gonzalez. Gonzalez says that his office does not allow for restricted pesticides to be applied within a quarter mile of schools when school is in session.


“I think they just did not present an accurate picture,” said Gonzalez. “I think that is the great failure of this report.”


Gonzalez said that there has not been an incident involving students and pesticides since the year 2000, when an application of pesticides drifted onto a school field.


“We expend over $1.2 million monitoring pesticide use,” said Gonzalez. “We have these restrictions. They know that if they make even a paperwork mistake, we’re going to take action against them.” 

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