Lack of Regard for Community Input Points to Urgent Need for Environmental Justice Position at Department
Tulare County organizer Angel Garcia leads a rally following September's PREC meeting in Sacramento. Photo Credit: Joan Cusick
Six months after the chief of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt refused to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, known to cause permanent brain damage in children, California officials have taken a page out of the Trump Administration's playbook and ordered yet more studies of the chemical - even though decades of independent study show harm to children.
Frustrated residents of agricultural communities packed a Sacramento hearing room September 15 to urge the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to order an immediate suspension of chlorpyrifos while the state's potentially lengthy scientific review takes place.
Although the meeting of DPR's interagency Pesticide Registration Evaluation Committee was billed as an opportunity for public input, the highly technical hearing was conducted entirely in English with no interpretation offered for the dozens of Spanish-speaking residents from agriculture's frontlines who had traveled more than four hours to attend. After DPR presented their revised draft risk assessment to the committee, residents who lined up to comment and ask questions were mostly rebuffed and ignored, and admonished that this was not the correct forum to be making comments. No other opportunity for oral comment was offered.
Randy Segawa, DPR's Special Advisor, blithely reassured the crowd that then still-secret interim mitigations would soon be announced that should be sufficient to provide adequate protection from harmful exposures.
CPR's Director of Development & Communications Jane Sellen asked Segawa why DPR had failed to consider the US EPA's finding of developmental neurotoxicity at vanishingly low doses. "The concern of the people in this room is that your idea of what an acceptable level [of chlorpyrifos] is, is so radically different than what
's 2016 assessment found, by a factor of 30,000," Sellen said. "People have some concerns that you might not mitigate to a level that we would consider health protective."
Those concerns turned out to be well-founded when the mitigations were cynically unveiled the day after the comment period ended, and fell far short of the promised protections (see next story.)
The PREC meeting, and the tremendous frustration of residents in attendance, was just the latest example of DPR's structural failure to include community perspective in their decision-making, pointing to the urgent need for agency reform so that environmental justice considerations are prioritized.