Living near fields where pesticides are applied is dangerous, particularly for children and pregnant women. Study after study, including many conducted in California, find increased risk of cancer, Parkinson’s, respiratory disease, learning disabilities, birth defects, and autism. However, the communities who bear this burden are kept in the dark about poisons sprayed near their homes because the local Agricultural Agencies (County Agricultural Commissioners) keep information about planned spray events a secret.
California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) must protect agricultural communities and give them information about spraying, before it happens, so that individuals can take measures to protect themselves and their families.
This is a basic first step to begin to address the environmental injustice caused by California’s conventional agricultural system which sickens farmworkers and agricultural communities, who are primarily Latinx, to produce food eaten around the country and the world. In 2018, 209 million pounds of pesticides were used in California of which 92%, nearly 200 million pounds, were applied to fields, according to the most recent data released by DPR. About half of those pesticides (108 million pounds) were applied in just 5 counties in the San Joaquin Valley—Fresno, Kern, Tulare, San Joaquin and Madera.
DPR must not let listening sessions, or consideration of new regulations, delay getting communities the information they deserve - and it does not require new legislation. For applications of pesticides that California designates as the most dangerous (called Restricted Materials), growers submit something called a Notice of Intent (NOI) to the County Agricultural Commissioner before the application occurs. Currently, these notices are not made public until after the spraying has happened, and only through a public records request. This must change—the public has the right to this information.
Communities need this information and it should be their right to be told what they could be exposed to.
California must not continue ignoring the voices of community members like Bianca Lopez, founder of Modesto-based Valley Improvement Projects:
“As long as our agricultural system continues to depend on vast inputs of pesticides, the state must do better at letting people know what’s planned on our farms and fields. Many of these chemicals are highly toxic and yet they continue to be sprayed by the millions of pounds on our food crops, right next to homes and schools, endangering residents and workers alike. The lack of transparency needs to end. We want to know where and when those 200 million pounds are being sprayed before it happens, not years after.”
NRDC is joining Californians for Pesticide Reform, and other groups around the state, calling on the Department of Pesticide Regulation to require County Agricultural Commissioners to publicly post online all Notices of Intent to use pesticides that are classified as Restricted Materials: the most hazardous and drift-prone pesticides which can only be applied by licensed professionals with a permit.