July 2018


Finally! Some good news on chlorpyrifos

Glyphosate OUT in Visalia School District

Caught in the Drift: Ohlone School revisited

Chlorpyrifos news: CA gets real, Hawaii passes ban, Pruitt is OUT!
DPR revises risk assessment to reflect risk of brain harm, additional restrictions or ban now likely

With the stroke of a pen, Hawaii last month took the lead in efforts to address the crisis surrounding the neurotoxic organophosphate chlorpyrifos. Hawaii Governor David Ige on June 13 signed legislation banning use of the pesticide, which is linked to severe and irreversible brain damage in young children. Meanwhile here in California, under stern orders from the state's independent Scientific Review Panel, the  Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) released a strong new draft risk assessment that echoes the conclusion of US EPA scientists: chlorpyrifos is simply unsafe to use in any amount.

The chemical, banned for household use in 2000 because of its impacts on the developing brain, was slated for a federal ban in March 2017. However, US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defied his own scientists and refused to implement the ban, leaving it up to the states to act. 

In a moment of sweet justice, Pruitt resigned Thursday, buried by the weight of a rising pile of scandals and ethical lapses. His interim successor, coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, is unlikely to reverse his decision on chlorpyrifos, so the pressure remains on California and other agricultural states to take action.

In contrast with the legislative action taken in Hawaii, California charged DPR with a lengthy risk assessment process as a first step toward increased protections. DPR's first attempts at revising their risk assessment, released last August and November, were notable for ignoring the known neurotoxic effects of chlorpyrifos and disregarding the body of science that had led US EPA scientists to recommend a ban. In fact, the draft risk assessment was so weak that in March, the state's Scientific Review Panel ordered them to rewrite it.
In June, the Panel made the determination that chlorpyrifos is a Toxic Air Contaminant and conditionally approved a much stronger version of the risk assessment. The version they approved acknowledges that young children in California are exposed to an unacceptable risk of harm caused by exposure to chlorpyrifos from food residues, drinking water and drift up to half a mile from treated fields. Each exposure route was determined to exceed safe levels on its own. In combination, DPR's latest risk assessment makes clear that all children in California are at risk of the brain-harming impacts of chlorpyrifos, with the greatest risk to rural children in farmworking communities.
The Scientific Review Panel will give final approval to DPR's Risk Assessment within the next few months, which is expected to lead to increased restrictions on chlorpyrifos use or even result in California becoming the second state in the nation to ban it outright. 

Visalia schools halt use of glyphosate on campus
Active ingredient of lawn care staple Roundup is a "probable human carcinogen"

We're delighted to announce that the 28,000-student Visalia Unified School District in May became the first in the San Joaquin Valley to halt on-campus use of the cancer-causing herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.  Following the lead of the Irvine Unified School District in Orange County , glyphosate has now been replaced by Avenger, an organic pesticide based on citrus oil. 

The decision  is the culmination of a ten-week campaign this spring by a group of local residents aimed at removing glyphosate from the school district's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan. O ur local Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety (CAPS) partnered with ACT for Women and Girls to guide the campaign and provide training and support.  The group studied glyphosate and the risks associated with it, learned the elements of a successful campaign, and got to know the political reality in the district - and then translated that knowledge into a tangible policy win. 

On behalf of the district's maintenance crew, staff and 28,000 students, we congratulate the board and administration of Visalia USD for taking this step toward a healthier campus for all.

CAPS members win an end to glyphosate use in Visalia schools

Roundup has come under intense scrutiny since 2015, when the World Health Organization declared  Monsanto's ubiquitous yard care staple a "probable human carcinogen." The threat to those who regularly handle the chemical was underscored in a recent lawsuit brought against Monsanto by Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year old school groundskeeper and father of three from Benicia, CA. Cancer has spread through most of his body, and doctors say he has just months to live. His landmark lawsuit cleared a major hurdle when the judge in the case issued an order allowing the jury to consider allegations that Monsanto suppressed evidence of Roundup's risks.

Lesions cover Johnson's body

As reported in The Guardian, Monsanto "championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies" that revealed the dangers of its herbicides, and led a "prolonged campaign of misinformation" to convince government agencies, farmers and consumers that Roundup was safe, according to Johnson's lawsuit

"We look forward to exposing how Monsanto hid the risk of cancer and polluted the science," said Michael Miller, Johnson's attorney. "Monsanto does not want the truth about Roundup and cancer to become public."

Roughly 4,000 other plaintiffs have filed suit, alleging Roundup caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The danger is especially acute for those like Johnson who regularly handle the chemical in the course of their job.  Thanks to the Visalia Unified School district's decision, tending school grounds there just got a little less perilous.

How sweet it is: Ohlone Elementary revisited
Students return to taste the organic berries they helped plant in a neighboring farm

Regular readers will recall that thanks to the tireless efforts of the teachers and parents of Ohlone Elementary School in Watsonville, Giant Berry Farms recently made the decision to transition the strawberry field next to the school to organic production. This transformation was the dream of one Ohlone teacher, Melissa Dennis, who was profiled by photographer Joan Cusick for the series Caught in the Drift.

Now, the field is no longer a place to be feared and avoided, but rather a destination for joyful field trips - and Ms. Dennis wasted no time getting her third graders down on the farm. Back in March, the students helped plant the first organic strawberry starts, and by May, the berries were ready to be picked (and sampled!) 

Photo Credit: Joan Cusick
Ohlone Elementary School in Watsonville, pictured here, is surrounded by agricultural fields. This field has switched to organic production, and is no longer being sprayed with hazardous chemicals. It's a great start but there's much more to be done: dozens of toxic pesticides are still being sprayed within a quarter mile of the school on conventionally farmed fields.

Photo Credit: Joan Cusick
The best kind of field trip - no need for a bus! Melissa Dennis leads her third graders to the field next door to see and taste the fruits of their labors.

Photo Credit: Joan Cusick
What could be sweeter? On behalf of the families and staff of Ohlone Elementary School, many thanks to Giant Berry Farms for practicing child-safe farming near our school.

Photo Credit: Joan Cusick

For more stories and photos by Joan Cusick, visit our Caught in the Drift website.