Group protests pesticide drift

By Aaron Burgin
The Porterville Recorder

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A coalition of scientists and concerned citizens claim that children in Lindsay are breathing air laced with unsafe levels of a harmful pesticide, but the county's agricultural commissioner said he questions whether the group's claims are accurate.

Members of the community groups El Quinto Sol and Californians for Pesticide Reform met Tuesday in Lindsay to discuss the results of two years of pesticide monitoring here.

“The children are breathing in poison,” Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network, said Tuesday. “Why should they be concerned about breathing in poison? Because it makes people sick.”

According to the results of the “drift catcher,” a pesticide air monitoring device, the level of chlorpyrifos exceeded federally established “safe” levels over the past two summer spray seasons.

Chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic insecticide commonly known as Lorsban, is linked to number of health risks including headaches, slow heartbeat and breathing problems.

Data provided by the groups reportedly shows that in 2005 over 20 percent of the samples in Lindsay contained chlorpyrifos levels that exceed safe levels for children. This levels were 6.6 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency safe levels, the group claims.

In 2004, 10 percent of the samples exceed safe level, the group reports, and the levels were 7.9 times higher than federal standards.

Reeves cited a 2005 survey where respondents reported experiencing at least 400 drift incidents.

Chlorpyrifos products account for almost 9 percent of pesticide emissions in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, Reeves said.

Officials from the groups said that the research shows that pesticide drift into residential communities here is a growing and serious problem.

“Breathing clean air is a human right,” Irma Arrollo, director of El Quinto Sol, said at the conference. “We need to protect our health, especially the health of our children who are more vulnerable.”

Some residents in Lindsay and members of the state activist group are calling for buffer zones to be set up around schools, parks and residential neighborhoods.

“We want the governor, the president, the senators to know what is going on,” said Lindsay resident Luis Medellin, who said he believed that pesticides used on orchards that surround his house were the cause of headache and vomiting spells he suffered.

Gary Kunkel, Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner, said the groups approached the office with the results - not the raw data - of the studies in early February.

Kunkel said he questions whether the EPA “safe” levels the group refers to in their study are accurate, or if they even exist.

“From what we've been told, there is no federal standard, so I don't know if the standards exist,” Kunkel said.

The commissioner also questions the testing methods: the drift catchers were manned by lay people with no scientific backgrounds, Kunkel said.

“We will not know whether or not this represents a threat until the data is reviewed by a group of scientific experts in the field of air monitoring,” Kunkel said.

This review will be occurring shortly, Kunkel said.

Reeves said that the group stands by their testing, and that it is now up to county and state officials to do the right thing.

“We will see if there is a response,” she said.

Chlorpyrifos was banned for residential use in 2000 because of its adverse side effects on children, however is still used widely in agriculture on oranges, cotton and almonds, according to the EPA.

Some 15 million pounds of pesticides were applied in Tulare County in 2004, the third highest amount by any county, according to the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Contact Aaron Burgin at 784-5000, Ext. 1046, or aburgin@portervillerecorder.com