April 4, 2024

Regulators are failing to protect children from repeat exposure to the most dangerous pesticides

MONTEREY, CA – A coalition has filed a lawsuit challenging the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s repeat rubberstamping of applications to use highly toxic and legally restricted pesticides, including the fumigants chloropicrin and 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D), near three schools in the Pajaro Valley of Monterey County.

Children at Ohlone Elementary School, Pajaro Middle School, and Hall District Elementary School, which also house onsite daycares, suffer some of the highest exposure to fumigants in the state. Fumigants cause severe and immediate health effects, including difficulty breathing, as well as long-term effects including cancer. County officials, under the purview of state regulators, have repeatedly approved permits allowing fumigations in the vicinity of these schools, with disregard for their cumulative health impacts and without a meaningful evaluation of feasible, safer alternatives.

“The State and our County Ag Commissioner have allowed a cancer-causing pesticide in the air that Ohlone Elementary Schoolchildren breathe at more than twice the level the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment says is safe. Our kids need protections from the regulators — not dereliction of duty,” said Yanely Martinez, Greenfield City Councilmember and Safe Ag Safe Schools organizer.

Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, Safe Ag Safe Schools, Center for Farmworker Families, Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, and Californians for Pesticide Reform, represented by Earthjustice, are demanding DPR and the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner end its illegal practice of disregarding the health of Latino schoolchildren, farmworkers, and community members in the restricted materials permitting process.

“California officials are mandated by law to address the cumulative impacts of harmful pesticides on human health and consider safer alternatives. The Ag Commissioner and DPR continue to rubber-stamp pesticide applications without doing either, disregarding the health and safety of our state’s most vulnerable people — young children,” said Elizabeth Fisher, Earthjustice attorney.

Exposing Latino schoolchildren in Monterey County to especially harmful pesticides amounts to racial discrimination and a violation of civil rights, the California Environmental Quality Act, and interrelated provisions of the Food and Agricultural Code. Yet every year, the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner, under DPR’s purview, allows farms to apply close to three million pounds of chloropicrin and 1,3-D – this, plus an additional 6 million pounds of other pesticides sprayed in Monterey County annually.

There is a well-documented history of fumigants drifting far beyond intended application sites and leading to mass-casualty events sickening farmworkers and community members. Studies link fumigant exposure, both individually and cumulatively, to serious acute and chronic health harms like fetal death and cancer. Studies also confirm that chloropicrin and 1,3-D may be even more toxic when their active ingredients interact. Unsafe-for-human-health fumigant levels have been recorded by an Ohlone Elementary air monitoring station almost every year that the monitoring station has been operational. The lifetime cancer risk at Ohlone Elementary continued to be more than twice OEHHA’s threshold when averaged over the eleven years of available monitoring data (2012-2022.)

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