JULY 2020


Join our call for statewide notification!

Farmworkers are essential

Rest in Power, Isabel Arrollo-Toland

Did you know? 
Californians get no notice of nearby hazardous pesticide use
We're calling on the state to change that. Sign our petition!

Photo credit: Byanka Santoyo

Did you know that in California, we get no notice when hazardous pesticide use is planned nearby? 

Many pesticides are highly drift-prone and can cause severe health harms, but we can't even choose to stay indoors or close the windows because we don't know when applications are happening.

Many people don't realize that in California, we don't have the right to know - a nd conventional agriculture is determined to keep it that way. They fear that once people know in advance what's being sprayed in their neighborhood, they will start to demand change. And powerful, profitable interests don't give up anything without a fight.

While the call for pesticide notification has been building for years, the current Covid-19 emergency has dramatically raised the stakes by highlighting public health issues relating to essential workers, vulnerable communities, respiratory health impacts, and entrenched patterns of environmental injustice. 

In a guidance letter dated May 7, 2020, DPR acknowledged that "health risks and vulnerabilities are heightened, given the growth of the COVID-19 pandemic," and that "enhanced transparency concerning pesticide applications that occur near homes and schools is a top priority for the state."  

For those living on the frontlines of agricultural pesticide exposure, there has long been a crisis of unseen threat to life and health. But unlike the virus that causes Covid-19, pesticides remain a hidden threat only by virtue of a deliberate set of policy choices. We believe our state can and must remedy this.

Together, we can demand an end to the secrecy. We can insist that growers operate with full transparency.

We've already started to win some battles: Thanks to the tireless work of the  Safe Ag Safe Schools coalition in the Monterey Bay Area, ten schools now get notice whenever fumigants are used within a quarter mile. And the Department of Pesticide Regulation has committed to developing a pilot notification program for the Kern County town of Shafter, which was selected for a  Community Emissions Reduction Program plan under  AB 617.

On behalf of all Californians,  we are calling on the Department of Pesticide Regulation to require County Agricultural Commissioners to publicly post all Notices of Intent to use pesticides that are classified as Restricted Materials, the most hazardous and drift-prone pesticides which can only be applied by licensed professionals with a permit.

Notification alone won't reduce hazardous pesticide use. But it's a crucial step toward a healthier and safer California.

Farmworkers Have Always Been Essential
Farmworkers among the hardest hit by Covid-19

Photo Credit: USDAgov Flickr via Compfight cc

The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but especially for essential workers.  Farmworkers have been some of the hardest hit of these workers, having to cope with the pandemic on top of the systemic injustices already embedded in our food and farming system. Before the pandemic hit, farmworkers routinely dealt with hazardous working conditions - limited personal protective equipment when applying pesticides, hard labor in the hot sun with limited access to shade and drinking water, and crowded living quarters often far away from family. 

COVID-19 has just added  another layer of hardship - including lack of protective gear like masks and hand sanitizers or hand-washing facilities, crowded transportation to fields, and other situations in which social distancing is hard to maintain. Farmworker families have had to manage remote schoolwork without adequate access to the internet and other technology like laptops. Often, many farmworkers are also reluctant or unable to get medical help or take time off of work to protect themselves and their community in case they fall sick.

Demanding emergency support
Pesticide Action Network, CPR and partners have shifted our work since the beginning of the pandemic to provide support to farmworker groups across California. We have contacted key legislative committees and policymakers in the state administration asking that funding be allocated to farmworker communities to address the following needs:
  • Adequate personal protective equipment, from providing gloves and masks to farmworkers, to providing access to adequate facilities for hand-washing and water in the fields.
  • Social distancing in the fields and transportation: Farmers and contractors should be required to enable social distancing in the fields. Many farmworkers report that they are forced to continue to work in large groups of 20 or more with minimal focus on maintaining necessary distance. Carpools that provide transportation to farmworkers are also not able to provide the adequate prescribed social distancing.
  • Expanded healthcare access and testing for COVID-19. Due to their immigration status, many farmworkers are hesitant or unable to access healthcare or COVID-19 testing. The state should ensure better communication with farmworker communities to make sure they're covered for healthcare related to COVID-19 and associated testing and treatment.
  • Safe, stable and affordable housing for farmworkers that allows for social distancing. Crowded housing conditions with multiple families residing in close proximity to each other can exacerbate the spread of COVID-19. Adequate safe, stable and affordable housing should be provided which allows farmworker families to maintain social distancing guidelines. There should be a statewide halt on evictions of farmworker families.
  • Stable access to key utilities (water, electricity, internet) and prohibition of late fees, charges and liens. Farmworker families need low cost, stable access to key utilities at a time of economic uncertainty and increased burden on families due to school closures due to COVID-19. The state should focus on making these utilities available to farmworker families for free or at a subsidized cost for the duration of the pandemic.
In addition, CPR and other partners have been at the forefront of direct assistance to farmworker families in the Central Valley and Central Coast. The Sierra Health Foundation - through its San Joaquin Valley Health Fund (SJVHF) program - has raised $4 million in assistance to distribute to folks in the San Joaquin Valley. CPR organizers and steering committee member organizations in Tulare, Kern and Fresno Counties have been working directly with farmworkers and families to distribute more than $200,000 of this emergency assistance. 

Steps taken by the administration and allies
Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom and state government departments have taken some steps to protect farmworkers and food sector workers, along with other workers in California. Some highlights:
  • Paid Sick Leave for Food Sector Workers: The Governor took action to afford two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to certain food workers, including farmworkers, restaurant employees, and grocery store workers to allow them to quarantine or isolate. 
  • Cal/OSHA Guidance: The Administration provided Cal/OSHA guidance to help protect agricultural, grocery, and healthcare workers. 
  • An executive order to protect renters and homeowners during the COVID-19 pandemic was enacted.
  • Governor Newsom announced an expansion of the farm-to-family program and new initiatives to combat food insecurity.
  • The state has committed $125 million to assist workers not covered by the CARES Act during COVID-19, including immigrant workers and undocumented Californians. Seventy-five million dollars will come from the state and the other $50 million comes from private sources. 
  • California has created a COVID-19 guide for immigrants, with information on treatment, testing and disaster relief assistance.
  • Twelve organizations around the state have been designated by the government to distribute disaster relief assistance to immigrants, including our partners at the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF). 
We are hopeful that with the joint efforts of the state government, civil society groups, community leaders and farmworker leaders, the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 will be less severe for communities across the state.

Adapted from a blog by Medha Chandra, Organizer and Policy Advocate, Pesticide Action Network. Reprinted with permission.
Remembering Isabel Arrollo-Toland
El Quinto Sol ED was a fierce advocate for environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley

Isabel Arrollo-Toland, right, with her mother and El Quinto Sol founder Irma Medellin
Photo Credit: Twilight Greenaway, Civil Eats

With the passing of Isabel Arrollo-Toland on May 16, 2020, CPR has lost a dear friend and one of our movement's greatest allies in the fight for environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley. 

Isabel was executive director of Lindsay-based El Quinto Sol de América, which was founded by her mother Irma Medellin. She served on the CPR steering committee for six years, and was instrumental in hiring our Tulare County organizer Angel Garcia and launching the local Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety in 2017.

Isabel was a woman of remarkable strength, conviction, humor, and warmth. In her too-short life, she left an indelible legacy in Tulare County through her work at El Quinto Sol. We will miss her dearly.

You can read more about Isabel and El Quinto Sol in this 2019 profile by Civil Eats.  Memorial contributions may be made to El Quinto Sol in Isabel's memory.