Even low-level agricultural pesticide exposure is linked to significant childhood health harms, including developmental, neurological and reproductive harms, as well as asthma, autism and cancer.
Parents and teachers are demanding one-mile buffers based on studies by well-respected academic and government institutions that document drift far past 1/4 mile. According to the first comprehensive report of drift-related pesticide poisoning in the United States, a one-mile buffer would prevent 85% of acute exposure illnesses. A University of California - Davis MIND Institute study documented significantly increased rates of autism in children of mothers who lived up to one mile from fields. A UC Berkeley CHAMACOS study of farmworker families in Salinas found contamination from the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in homes up to 1.8 miles from treated fields. And the California Childhood Leukemia Study reported elevated concentrations of several pesticides in the dust of homes up to ¾ mile from treated fields.
DPR's announcement comes more than two years after the 2014 release of a
by the California Department of Public Health, which for the first time documented the extent of use of the most hazardous agricultural pesticides near public schools in 15 agricultural counties in California. The report revealed that more than half a million pounds of 144 pesticides of public health concern are used within a quarter mile of California schools each year. The ten most heavily used are all associated with at least one severe impact on children's health and learning. These schools are attended by 500,000 students, who suffer long-term chronic exposure throughout their childhood to chemicals known to cause cancer and other severe health impacts.
The report also documented a marked racial disparity at the most impacted schools. In the 15 agricultural counties studied, Latino schoolchildren were nearly twice (91%) as likely to attend a school near the heaviest pesticide use as their white peers.
"All Californians deserve to be protected from hazardous pesticides, regardless of race or place," said Arcenio Lopez, Executive Director of Mixteca/Indígena Community Organizing Project in Oxnard. "These regulations are long overdue, but it is beyond disappointing that DPR has failed to propose health-protective rules. Once again it is low income people of color who will pay the steepest price."
Pesticide drift incidents near schools occur regularly in California, harming students and teachers alike. In February, an aerial spray of a potent insecticide took place during school hours in the Pajaro Valley School District in Monterey County, causing an outcry among staff and parents.
, a pesticide application across the street from Coachella Valley High School in Riverside County sickened 20 students and 8 staff, and led to only a $5,000 fine for the violator, far short of the maximum $140,000 that could have been levied.
Health and justice advocates point out that schools buffer zones are just a start, and that agricultural methods that cause harm to children and the environment are not sustainable in the long-term. Community leaders from California's agricultural regions are calling on DPR to lead the way toward a transition from hazardous agricultural pesticides.