Community groups welcome proposal for new pesticide buffer zones around schools in Kern County
Proposal a good first step, but must go further to protect communities’ health
DELANO, CA—In three upcoming November hearings organized by the Kern County Agricultural Commissioner, Kern County community groups will gather to applaud proposed school pesticide buffer zones as an important first step in protecting children’s health, while cautioning that the proposed buffer zones are not enough to protect communities from the dangers of drifting pesticides. Community groups are calling for the buffer zones to be larger, and to include all “sensitive sites” such as residences, businesses, hospitals, occupied labor camps and nursing homes.
"'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' is a basic concept that we teach children at a young age," said Beatrice Campos, Program Manager at the Dolores Huerta Foundation. "The least we can do is not poison our children in their places of learning. It’s refreshing to see a government agency taking steps to practice simple common sense and prevent problems before they start."
Children are more at risk of adverse health effects from pesticide exposure because their bodies and brains are still developing. Studies have linked pesticide exposure in children with learning disabilities, behavioral problems (specifically attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), lower IQ, and decreased verbal comprehension, visual perceptual reasoning, memory and mental processing speed. A study conducted by the California Department of Health Services and the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California showed that children whose mothers lived near applications of certain organochlorine pesticides during the first trimester of pregnancy had a 6.1 time greater chance of developing autism spectrum disorders.
Current buffer zone rules in Kern County are set at ¼ mile for aerial applications of restricted use pesticides around residential areas, occupied labor camps, schools in session and other areas designated by the Agricultural Commissioner.
Kern County community groups have been calling for stronger county-wide buffer zone regulations in order to protect public health from pesticide exposure, and welcome the proposed ¼ mile buffer zone to include all agricultural pesticide applications around schools in session and during school-sponsored activities when children are present.
"This decision is an important first step protecting children from pesticide exposure,”" said Armando Elenes, National Vice President of the United Farm Workers Union. "Because most of these communities are surrounded by agriculture, families live in constant fear of getting poisoned by drifting pesticides. Schools should be a safe place for kids to play and learn."
Still, local groups caution that to protect all community members from drifting pesticides, buffer zones must be much broader. As an immediate step, groups recommend that these buffer zones should be:
• ½ mile in length;
• extended to include residential areas and occupied labor camps;
• in place at all times, since children use school grounds like parks outside of scheduled school-sponsored activities.
"Pesticides have no place being applied near where people live, work, pray and play," declared Lupe Martinez, Deputy Director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. "We will not be sacrificed for agrochemical companies’ profits. It’s a basic human right to breathe clean, safe air."
Approximately 90% of pesticides used in California are prone to drifting away from their intended targets and can easily reach nearby homes, schools and businesses. Pesticide exposure can cause immediate poisonings, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, difficulty breathing and rashes. Long-term exposure to pesticides can cause cancer, reproductive harm, respiratory or nervous system damage or damage to children’s development.
To be even more health protective, Kern County community groups and other groups statewide recommend that buffer zones should ideally extend at least one mile around all residences, school bus stops, businesses, day care centers, occupied labor camps, hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, fields being tended by workers, and environmentally protected areas (such as wildlife preserves).
Collaborating organizations in the Safe Air For Everyone Campaign in Kern County include Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the United Farm Workers Union, Committee for a Better Alpaugh and the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform.
The three public hearings on the proposed buffer zones are scheduled for:
Delano Monday, November 9 - 11:30am to 1:30pm,
Delano Veterans Hall, 1025 Garces Hwy.
Bakersfield Tuesday, November 17 - 11:30am to 1:30pm
Wednesday, November 18 - 5:30 to 7:30pm
Kern County Farm & Home Advisor’s Office Conference Room, 1031 S. Mount Vernon Ave.(across the hall from the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office)