This story was produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent nonprofit news organization.
More than a year ago, public health officials warned that Latino children in California were nearly twice as likely as white kids to attend schools close to heavy pesticide applications. As I reported in April, in a FERN-produced story that ran online in The Nation, Latino parents in some communities knew all too well that their children were exposed to pesticides. Regulators knew it, too, yet in a complaint that dragged on for a dozen years, they did little to remedy the situation.
This week, however, state pesticide regulators finally said they will seek to strengthen restrictions on pesticide use near schools.
Starting May 28 in Sacramento, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) will hold five workshops, getting public input on new standards to improve school pesticide notification procedures and reduce the risk of exposure. There will be four other meetings in key farming communities, including Ventura County, which has more schools with high concentrations of nearby pesticide use than any other county in the state.
This is a potentially dramatic development, since the issue of pesticide exposure near schools has long been contentious. More than 12 years ago, six families filed a complaint urging the EPA to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funds from engaging in discriminatory practices. The EPA funds the California DPR, which sanctioned heavy use of methyl bromide and other toxic fumigants near predominantly Latino schools. The policy selectively exposed Latino kids to chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders and other serious health problems, the families argued.
When EPA officials finally issued a preliminary ruling on the complaint, 12 years after it was filed, they agreed with the families. Methyl bromide applications near Latino schools had exceeded safety standards for short- and long-term exposures, the agency ruled, causing “an adverse disparate impact upon Latino schoolchildren.”