November 2018


  CPR members take the fight for a chlorpyrifos ban to the Toxic Air Contaminant hearing

New interim recommended mitigations for chlorpyrifos fall far short

Meet Jesus "Chucho" Mendoza Pineda, our pesticide organizer in Fresno

Residents disrupt DPR hearing to demand relief from brain-damaging pesticide
Patience wears thin as state legislators join call for immediate ban of chlorpyrifos
Photo credit: Joan Cusick

The fate of a common agricultural pesticide linked to irreversible brain damage in young children remains mired in state bureaucracy, in a process that could take up to three more years to resolve. At a hearing last Thursday in Sacramento to consider listing the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos as a Toxic Air Contaminant, emotions ran high as dozens of residents of agricultural communities showed up with a simple demand: ban it now. 

Several community members took the opportunity to voice their anger and frustration at yet more faceless red tape, taking turns to offer often wrenching public comment. You can watch some of the testimony here and here. No decision maker had the courage to sit on the panel and hear directly from residents, who had to settle instead for directing their comments to a DPR attorney and her assistant. 

Is anyone listening? A lone DPR attorney and an assistant hear testimony
Photo credit: Joan Cusick

After an hour or more spent giving public comment in DPR-approved three-minute increments, the hearing room erupted in noise and color as dozens of residents rushed the podium chanting and waving signs, and unfurled a large banner demanding an end to chlorpyrifos use. You can watch the protest here, beginning at 38'15".

Tulare organizer Angel Garcia and his son lead a protest at the DPR TAC hearing
Photo credit: Joan Cusick

The anger and frustration that spilled over on Thursday were a long time coming. A decade after being court-ordered to take action on chlorpyrifos, the US EPA in 2016 announced a proposed federal ban, based on extensive scientific evidence of harm to the developing brain. The proposed ban was reversed by the Trump Administration last year. Since then, DPR has been conducting its own review of the science, and in July announced its conclusion that current levels of exposure pose a risk of brain harm to babies and children.

But what comes next is less clear, as the state continues a painstaking process of review and decision-making that many scientists and advocates decry as needless stalling on one of most toxic and most thoroughly reviewed pesticides still used in California.

"The science is clear: children and pregnant women are being exposed to a chemical that permanently damages the developing brain," said Paulina Torres, staff attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. "DPR's legal authority is also clear: it has the power to immediately cancel and suspend chlorpyrifos registrations. What isn't clear to me is why DPR continues to allow the poisoning of our children."

Once chlorpyrifos is listed as a Toxic Air Contaminant, the Department of Pesticide Regulation must come up with additional measures to protect public health in consultation with other state and local agencies, including the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the California Air Resources Board. DPR then has 2 years to adopt control measures, which could include anything from increased buffer zones to an outright ban. A final decision is expected in 2021.

But advocates pushed back against this timeline, noting that the Toxic Air Contaminant regulatory process requires the Department to immediately cancel registrations of a chemical that "demonstrated serious uncontrollable adverse effects"; that is "detrimental ... to the public health and safety" even when used properly; that causes greater detriment to the environment than the benefit received; or when t here are alternatives that are less destructive to the environment. Included in the coalition of more than 100 organizations calling for immediate cancellation are the California School Employees Association, California Nurses Association, and United Farm Workers of America.

Their demand was echoed by a dozen state legislators who signed on to a letter authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) calling for an immediate ban.

"After a year of further investigation, three different California scientific bodies confirmed what EPA officials previously found: chlorpyrifos is too harmful to use in any amount. The pesticide is found in our air, water and food, and impacts children's developing brains. Legislators agree with California families: we can't wait any longer. It's time for us to suspend or ban it," said Asm. Friedman.

Among the impacted community members who spoke at the Toxic Air Contaminant hearing on Thursday was community organizer Byanka Santoyo, a resident of Kern County and mother of a young daughter. "Our children are exposed day and night to a harmful pesticide that can have irreversible effects on their health," said Santoyo. "Big business keeps raking in the profits while our front line communities are being harmed by their practices."

State's 'Short-term Fix' for Brain-Damaging Pesticide Falls Short
Under pressure to ban chlorpyrifos, pesticide regulators recommend inadequate exposure-reduction measures

Under intensifying pressure from CPR's large coalition of health, education and environmental justice advocates, state regulators on Thursday announced a set of interim  recommended measures  aimed at limiting exposure to the hazardous organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos, known to cause permanent brain damage in young children. But the measures fall far short of the ban many are calling for.  State regulators have found that young children in California risk permanent neurotoxic effects from exposure to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos in their food, water and air.

In comments to the  Associated Press , California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) spokesperson Charlotte Fadipe described the measures as "like our short-term fix," adding in a press release that a permanent fix would take two more years.

"We're disappointed that once again, DPR is undercutting protections ordered by the Federal courts and adopted by Hawaii to put an end to the use of brain-harming chlorpyrifos," said Mark Weller, Co-Director of the statewide Californians for Pesticide Reform coalition. "Kicking the problem to the counties is simply not good enough. DPR needs to exercise leadership, follow the science and the law, and ban this brain-damaging chemical now."

Thursday's announcement is the latest salvo in a decade-long battle to end use of what is among the most hazardous pesticides still used in California. 

"The only way to protect our children from this toxic chemical is to ban it - and this does not come close to doing that," said Allison Johnson, Sustainable Food Policy Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "These measures are temporary and will not eliminate much of the chlorpyrifos used on food grown in California communities and eaten by families across the country. With the Trump Administration fighting tooth and nail to keep this dangerous pesticide in our food supply, we need our state leaders to protect us. California must recognize that there is no safe level of chlorpyrifos and get rid of it once and for all."

The recommended restrictions announced today by DPR include a minimal 150-foot setback from homes and schools and limited restrictions on the crops and pests the chemical can be used on. But chlorpyrifos will still be sprayed on many common crops, including grapes, nuts and citrus. The measures are offered as recommendations for County Agricultural Commissioners in the pesticide application permit process.  

For those living in California's farmworking communities, Thursday's announcement from DPR came as a particularly devastating blow. "These measures don't protect our kids from brain harm. We expect this from Trump, but we hoped for better from California," said Angel Garcia, community organizer for the Tulare County Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety. "We don't understand why DPR continues to nibble around the edges, when their own science has told them this chemical must be banned."

Meet Jesus "Chucho" Mendoza Pineda, our new pesticide organizer in Fresno
Photo credit: Joan Cusick

We're delighted to welcome our newest pesticide organizer, Jesus "Chucho" Mendoza Pineda. Chucho is on the staff of CPR steering committee member Central California Environmental Justice Network, and was hired to coordinate the new local coalition in Fresno.

Chucho comes from a migrant farmworking background, having moved to the Valley as a young child with his family from Michoacan, Mexico. His first job was in the lemon orchards at the age of eleven. He has experienced firsthand the unhealthy living and working conditions endured by Valley residents and farmworkers on a daily basis. His advocacy and activism began at the age of six, and his commitment to social and environmental justice has only grown over the years.

A longtime Fresno resident, Chucho graduated from Fresno State University with a degree in Chicano and Latin American Studies. He brings twenty years of experience working with children and families in Fresno as a mentor and organizer. We're excited to have Chucho moving our work forward in Fresno - the highest pesticide use county in the state.