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Ventura Schools Create an Environment for Change . . .

With prompting from community groups, the district has become local leader in effort to make children's surroundings more healthful.

March 05, 2000|LOLITA ECHEVERRIA | Lolita Echeverria is Central Coast Environmental Health Project coordinator for the Environmental Defense Center

As more people become aware of the dangers associated with the use of pesticides, the number of concerned citizens willing to participate in the political process grows. The voices of concern come directly from the fields, from communities living adjacent to fields and from teachers and parents of students at schools located next to conventional farming operations.

But as many Ventura County residents know, agricultural land is not the only place for potential contact with pesticides. They are often used in public parks, buildings, roadways and in many of our schools.

Pesticides not only harm pests, weeds, insects, rodents and fungi, they can also harm the environment and humans--especially children. Pesticides can cause short-term adverse health effects including nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, stinging eyes, rashes, blisters and death. Long-term effects can include cancers, birth defects, nerve damage, male and female reproductive harm, harm to developing fetuses and disruption of the endocrine system.

Studies indicate that children are more susceptible than adults to pesticides because their organs, nervous systems and immune systems are still developing. Additionally, a child's mechanism for detoxifying and excreting drugs, pesticides and toxicants is immature and less efficient than an adult's.

Awareness of both the potential health hazards associated with exposure to pesticides and the variety of locations in our community where children are potentially exposed to chemicals has motivated action.

Community groups such as Community and Children's Advocates Against Pesticide Poisoning (CCAAPP) spearheaded an effort to implement a least toxic integrated pest management (IPM) program in the Ventura Unified School District. The groups' vigilance, knowledge and perseverance, as well as the district administrator's willingness to work with the group, helped to create an environment conducive to change.

CCAAPP's yearlong effort paid off when the school district voted 4 to 0 to implement the IPM program. By using least toxic methods for controlling pests, the program serves to remove an outlet of exposure for children. The policy eliminates the most toxic pesticides, including those known to cause cancer, and requires the district to research and investigate safe alternatives.

The school district has become a local leader in the effort to create a healthy environment for children, and the community group's work is proof that ordinary people participating in the political process makes a difference.

Although Ventura County residents have some victories under their belt, the county still has a long way to go before achieving the goal of complete protection of public and environmental health. The systems that have been established to protect us may not be adequately meeting that goal.

An example is the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which requires the Environmental Protection Agency to consider the aggregate exposure to pesticides that have the same mechanism of toxicity when evaluating pesticide risks. The National Resources Defense Council has publicly criticized the EPA for continuing to evaluate these chemicals individually, despite the law's requirements.

The lack of strong regulatory protection, compounded by research uncovering the risks associated with pesticide use, makes it imperative for our community to be proactive on this issue. We can work to protect communities, schools and other sensitive sites from exposure to pesticides by first becoming informed, and then by getting involved.

An important opportunity to become educated and get involved in the process is coming to Ventura County on Saturday. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has released proposed regulations including new rules for the agricultural use of methyl bromide. In 1998, more than 1.6 million pounds of this highly toxic chemical were used in Ventura County--sometimes dangerously close to schools.

By law the department must gather public input on this proposal and it is now accepting written comments as well as holding public hearings. Because the proposal fails to protect farm workers, schoolchildren and local communities from potential exposure to methyl bromide it is imperative that both Gov. Gray Davis and the department hear from the public on this critical issue.

To learn more about this issue please come to the hearing on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Seaside Park in Ventura.

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