County residents want more pesticide rules
By Laura Florez
Staff writer from Visalia Times-Delta

Citing a study that found unsafe levels of pesticides in the air in Lindsay, a group of residents banned together Tuesday to ask county officials to establish protection zones that would prevent pesticide applications near homes, schools, businesses and hospitals.

"We're all suffering," said Luis Medellin, 20, of Lindsay. "We want to make the community safe — our schools, our work places, our parks."

Medellin, who says he and his family have been plagued by rashes and vomiting as a result of exposure to pesticides, was one of 25 people who Tuesday made the request for protection zones that would prohibit pesticide sprays within a quarter-mile to a half-mile of homes, schools, businesses and hospitals.
The request was made following the release of a report by Pesticide Action Network that found unsafe levels of pesticides in Lindsay air samples and a community pesticide survey that found 41 percent of those surveyed in Tulare County had experienced pesticide drift.

The report monitored chlorpyrifos — a neurotoxic insecticide banned nationally since 2000 for residential use because of health risks to children but still widely used in agriculture — in the air over the past two years during the summer spray seasons in Lindsay.

What the report found was that levels of chlorpyrifos in Lindsay's air exceeded the U.S Environmental Protection Agency established level deemed "safe" for children by up to 7.9 times in 2004, and up to 6.6 times in 2005, the report said.

It also found that in 2005, more than 20 percent of the samples contained chlorpyrifos levels that exceeded "safe" levels for children, while in 2004, more than 10 percent of samples exceeded what are considered safe levels for children.

But Glenn Brank, a spokesman for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation said the report cites that samples exceeded an EPA screening level that doesn't exist.

"If in fact we are violating an EPA standard, why hasn't the EPA sued us or taken us away in handcuffs?" he said.

"To say there is a federal standard that we are not obeying is incorrect. There is no regulatory standard."

Still, those who participated in the report, including Medellin, say something has to be done to eliminate drift.

Lindsay residents used a "Drift Catcher," a community pesticide air monitoring device, to gather samples for the report.

Pesticide drift does happen, according to figures released by the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Weights and Measures.

To date this year, the office has received 62 complaint calls, 15 of which from people who say they had been exposed to pesticide drift, said Bill Deavours, deputy agricultural commissioner. Last year there were 70 complaints, 31 of which alleged pesticide drift.

Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Gary Kunkel said there will have to be some compromise.

The county could add rule as about the method of application or timing, he said. "In a county where farming is so prevalent eliminating pesticide completely would be very detrimental to our agribusiness," he said.

The reporter can be reached at lflorez@visalia.gannett.com