Parents and community activists say a new report shows fumigants widely used in the central San Joaquin Valley may pose a greater health risk when applied together, and on Thursday they urged the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to increase buffer zones around schools to protect children.
“Today, unfortunately, regulators are not taking into account the interactive effects of these fumigants,” said Angel Garcia, a community organizer with El Quinto Sol de America, a Lindsay-based nonprofit working to improve the lives of farmworkers and their families.
Today, unfortunately, regulators are not taking into account the interactive effects of these fumigants.
Angel Garcia, community organizer for El Quinto Sol de America
Fumigant pesticides are gases that are applied to the soil to kill diseases and pests. In the Valley, they are used on such crops as strawberries, tomatoes, tree nuts and stone fruits.
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Farmers have relied on a combination of fumigants in large part because one such pesticide, methyl bromide, was banned several years ago. The three fumigants commonly used today are chloropicrin, Telone and metam sodium.
In 2013, Fresno County farmers used nearly 2.2 million pounds of Telone, 1.5 million pounds of metam sodium and nearly 104,000 pounds of chloropicrin, according to the state. It’s unknown if Fresno County growers used the most of the three fumigants, but in 2013 Fresno County had the highest use of all pesticides.
In 2013, Fresno County used nearly 2.2 million pounds of Telone, 1.5 million pounds of metam sodium and nearly 104,000 pounds of chloropicrin
Stace Leoni, deputy agriculture commissioner in Fresno County and manager of the pesticide enforcement program, said agriculture chemicals, used correctly, are beneficial.
“And that’s what we do; we make sure they use them correctly,” Leoni said.
But Garcia said a report released Wednesday by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles Sustainable Technology & Policy Program raises concerns about an increased cancer risk from exposure to fumigants when used in combination. The report also noted that other risks may increase, including developmental, reproductive and neurotoxic issues, Garcia said.
Children are especially vulnerable and need protection from pesticides, Garcia said. He and parents who gathered in Orange Cove urged the state to increase a quarter-mile buffer zone around schools to a mile buffer.
The UCLA study recommended the state test pesticides that are sold as part of a mixture for interactive toxic effects before approving their use, require evaluation of products that are not used as a mixture but are used in combination or sequentially with other pesticides to determine interactive effects, and consider interactive effects in performing risk assessments and establishing regulations.
Researchers did not recommend a wider buffer zone around schools, but a map of Ventura County included in the report shows that pesticides appear to drift for over a mile.
Virginia Zaunbrecher, program and outreach director at the Sustainable Technology and Policy Program, said: “In general, a buffer zone is going to decrease exposure, but it’s not going to eliminate exposure.”
DPR has the most protective and robust pesticide program in the country.
Charlotte Fadipe, spokeswoman for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation
Charlotte Fadipe, a Department of Pesticide Regulation spokeswoman, said in an email that the agency is aware of the UCLA study and the issues raised, adding that its recommendations will be reviewed.
“DPR has the most protective and robust pesticide program in the country,” Fadipe said. “We use good, sound science to make our regulations, and California has more protections for workers than in any other state and in some other countries.”
Claudia Angulo, who hosted the Orange Cove event at her home, said the state should “put more emphasis on children’s health.”
Angulo, 37, said her family lives near two fields that are treated with pesticides. She worries about her four children’s health. Her 18-year-old daughter has breathing problems and her 7-year-old daughter has asthma.
In January, Angulo agreed to have hair tested from her son Isaac Angulo, 9, for a French journalist who arranged for testing of children who lived in agricultural areas in California, Hawaii and France.
El Quinto Sol de America handled Isaac’s testing, Garcia said. In October, Angulo got the results: The test found 50 pesticides in her son’s hair.
Angulo said she expected the test would find some pesticides, but “I was concerned and upset.”