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Salinas hearing focuses on farmland pesticide spraying near schools


Hundreds of concerned parents, health workers and educators turned out Thursday evening in Salinas to urge state officials to increase restrictions on the use of agricultural pesticides near schools. Over a dozen growers also attended, concerned about a new proposal that limits the application of pesticides during school hours.

A draft rule issued from the state agency charged with regulating agricultural pesticide use in California would ban growers from applying pesticides from the air during school hours if the farm is located within a quarter mile to a school or licensed day care facility.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, growers would not be able to apply pesticides by sprinkler, airblast sprayer or gas, and most dust and powder pesticide applications would be prohibited during those hours.

Charlotte Fadipe is with the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, or DPR. She told KCBX Thursday that pesticides applied by backpack or hand pumps will still be allowed during school hours, but applications by helicopter would not.

“Agriculture is really important to California and we produce so much of this country’s food. A lot of the growers that produce our food use pesticides, of course, to kill the pests that attack the crops,” Fadipe said. “We’re concerned about the potential for the pesticide to drift on a school campus or day care center and adversely affect people.”

Under the proposed rule, growers would be required to make a list of all the pesticides they plan to put on their fields for the upcoming year and provide that list to school administrators. Growers on land within ¼ mile of a school would also have to notify schools administrators 48 hours in advance before each application.

Since announcing the proposed rule change in September, the DPR has held public hearings in Oxnard and Tulare.

Mark Weller is co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform. He attended Thursday’s four-hour hearing in Salinas and said 66 speakers called for expanding the proposed rule. Many want a full-time, one-mile buffer around schools and daycare centers.

Weller said he hopes the DPR takes into consideration "the many scientific studies and articles" introduced into the public record at the hearing.

“While the agricultural interests came in with bumper stickers that said ‘Science, Not Fear,’ none of them introduced even one scientific study, and the people who were most focused on the science and concerned that the regulation isn’t informed by the science were the teachers and nurses and Ph.Ds. who made numerous presentations.”

Weller said that of the 17 speakers who spoke against the proposed rule, most thought a quarter mile buffer was too much and the new regulation onerous.

“Unnecessary: That, in a word, was the opinion of farmers and other agricultural representatives who turned up for public hearings concerning a Department of Pesticide Regulation proposal...restricting how and when farmers can protect their crops from pests,” Assistant Editor Kevin Hecteman wrote in the Nov. 23 issue of Ag Alert, a California Farm Bureau Federation publication.

Weller said seven of the ten most-used pesticides in Monterey County have been banned in the European Union, "and here they are being used right up to the border of schools right now. So we really do need a strong regulation from the state." 

According to the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Erik Lauritzen, more than 70 schools in Monterey County are located within a quarter-mile of agricultural fields, and growers make over 165,000 agricultural pesticide applications annually.