Small town of Shafter takes on the state and wins a huge victory for all Californians
Shafter is surrounded by intensively-treated agricultural fields
The small but mighty Kern County town of Shafter (pop. 16,988) is savoring a hard-fought victory this week after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) agreed that pesticides would be included in plans to reduce air emissions in the highly impacted community.
Selected by CARB for a community emissions reduction plan in the first year of implementation of the groundbreaking piece of legislation AB 617 (C. Garcia), Shafter has blazed a trail for all agricultural communities across the state that share the town's pesticide pollution burden.
With an astonishing 3 million pounds of pesticides used each year within a seven mile radius of Shafter, it came as no surprise that residents put pesticides at the top of the list of pollutants of greatest concern to them - especially those that are classified by the state as Toxic Air Contaminants (TACs).
But pesticides occupy a special carve-out within the Toxic Air Contaminant program, regulated by the Department of Pesticide Regulation in their pesticidal use and - until now - essentially unregulated once they leave the fields as air pollutants.
That's where Shafter residents stepped in, to demand relief from the regulatory vacuum in which they found themselves. Over the course of the past year, the members of the Shafter AB 617 Steering Committee participated in more than 50 meetings with the Air District and other regulators, met individually with each of the CARB board members, and wrote half a dozen letters arguing for the inclusion of pesticides in their plan.
At a special CARB board meeting held on February 13 in Shafter, CARB agreed with them, passing a resolution affirming that pesticide Toxic Air Contaminants "can be regulated as a TAC and as smog-forming compounds as they become waste gases outside of their pesticidal use;" acknowledging the "overlapping authorities between pesticide and air regulators"; and committing the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to implement a pilot in Shafter to reduce emissions of the carcinogenic pesticide TAC 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D, or Telone) by the equivalent of covering applications with a tarp, an emissions reduction of 60%.
Shafter also won an extension of DPR's existing pesticide air monitoring, which was set to expire, and a pilot notification program to be developed by DPR, the Kern County Agricultural Commissioner, and the Shafter AB 617 Steering Committee.
Now that Shafter has established this critically important precedent - yes, pesticides do in fact fall within the purview of AB 617 community emissions reduction planning - agricultural communities selected for the program in the years to come can confidently expect their own pesticide pollution burden to be acknowledged, planned for, and mitigated.
To the residents of Shafter and especially to the members of the Shafter AB 617 Steering Committee with special support from organizers Byanka Santoyo and Gustavo Aguirre Jr, we say BRAVO and extend to you our deep debt of gratitude. The results of your hard work will reverberate across the state for years to come.