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Ventura County Perspective

Bill Would Help Protect Public From Pesticide Drift

March 11, 2001|HANNAH-BETH JACKSON | Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) represents much of Ventura County in the California Assembly

Widespread pesticide use and pesticide poisonings are on the rise in California. Perhaps most troubling is the increasing use of pesticides near schools and other areas where we have sensitive populations such as the elderly and infirm.

A recent study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group revealed that 7.7 million pounds of pesticides were applied in California in 1998 within 1.5 miles of public school campuses. The level of pesticides applied near Ventura County schools was among the highest in the state.

On Nov. 8, students and staff at Mound Elementary School in Ventura were exposed to the toxic chemical Lorsban, which drifted onto school property as it was being sprayed in a citrus orchard less than 30 feet away. Students and staff exposed to the chemical suffered immediate effects including burning eyes and throats, dizziness, severe headaches, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Subsequent testing revealed that residue of the pesticide remained on school property days after the incident, although adverse long-term effects from the exposure are still unknown.

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Unfortunately, the occurrence at Mound School is not unique. For years, as California's population has grown and spread outward, conflicts between neighboring urban and agricultural land uses have increased. Problems most frequently arise in areas where agricultural land is rezoned to accommodate schools, hospitals and residential development with growers continuing to farm their surrounding land. Occupants of the new developments are then faced with various problems including blowing dust, unpleasant odors and in some cases pesticide drift and exposure.

Immediately after the incident at Mound School, local, state, and school district officials met to determine which jurisdiction possessed the regulatory authority to prevent such exposures in the future. After performing a thorough legal analysis, the officials concluded that current law did not provide anyone with the authority to regulate this type of pesticide application.

In response to this information, I began working with all interested parties to develop a workable legislative solution to the pesticide drift problem that would protect public health while providing the flexibility needed to protect the future of agriculture in Ventura County.

My staff and I spoke with a range of affected individuals and groups including parents of Mound School students, the president of the Mound Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization, Ventura Unified School District Supt. Joseph Spirito and other school district officials, Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner Earl McPhail, public health officials, state agency staff members and representatives of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, Ventura County Agricultural Assn., Environmental Defense Center, Sierra Club and Community and Children's Advocates Against Pesticide Poisoning.

Recognizing that the health of our community's children is at stake, these individuals worked together to help develop an outline for a legislative proposal that would begin to address the problem of pesticide drift and exposure. Agreement was reached by virtually all of the participants.

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I recently introduced Assembly Bill 947, a bill that reflects the community's thoughtful and determined effort. If passed, the measure would provide county agricultural commissioners with the ability to protect public health by regulating all pesticide applications near sensitive sites such as schools, day-care facilities, hospitals and nursing homes. It would also increase the fines that could be levied against individuals responsible for exposing the public to pesticides. Finally, the bill would require schools adjacent to agricultural land to prepare and maintain a safety plan that specifically addressed pesticide drift and accidental exposure to pesticides.

These provisions would fill the loopholes in existing law to prevent the kind of exposure that occurred at Mound School and would provide local decision makers with the flexibility to address local problems at the local level.

This bill is the critical first step toward eliminating pesticide drift and exposure in Ventura County and throughout the state. It would provide agricultural commissioners throughout the state with the ability and responsibility to protect the public from pesticide drift and exposure. Although this legislation is an important step, we must continue to develop nontoxic alternatives to pesticides to ensure the health of our loved ones and a sustainable future for agriculture in California.

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