Central Valley farmworkers and environmentalists protest pesticide spraying on farms near schools, from outside an elementary school in West Fresno at risk.  (Sasha Khokha/KQED)
Central Valley farmworkers and environmentalists protest pesticide spraying on farms near schools, from outside an elementary school in West Fresno at risk. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

A new state report shows tens of thousands of California students attend schools very close to farms where heavy amounts of pesticides are used.

Farmworkers and pesticide reform groups say the data is long overdue.

This is the first time the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has comprehensively surveyed pesticide use near the 2,500 schools in 15 California counties with the most pesticide use. CDPH defined “near” as within 1/4 mile, a “common distance” when pesticides are used near schools. Monterey, Ventura, Tulare, and Fresno counties had the most students and schools located within a quarter-mile of where pesticides are used.

Latino school children are 91 percent more likely than white students to attend schools near fields with heavy pesticide use.

Dr. Asa Bradman reviewed the report for CDPH. He directs the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at UC Berkeley.

“We’re trying to understand how pesticides are used, what their potential toxicity is, identify communities where additional research is warranted, and then potentially take steps to reduce those exposures,” Bradman said.

In the report, authors are clear that the study does not measure whether any children were actually exposed to pesticides and does NOT link pesticide use to health effects in children.

Even so, rural residents like Domitila Lemus, in the Central Valley community of Plainview, would like to know more about the health risks are.

“Our school is right near a grape vineyard,” she said in Spanish. “When kids come out of school sometimes, the first thing they smell is pesticides. I want to reach into the hearts of farmers so they advise schools when they are going to spray — and are careful with our children.”

Pesticide reform groups have criticized the timing of the study, which was released late last week after a pesticide safety bill failed in a state senate committee. That measure would have increased requirements for farmers to notify residents and schools in advance of applying certain pesticides. A Department of Public Health spokesman says the timing was coincidental.

Author

Sasha Khokha

Sasha Khokha is Central Valley Bureau Chief for KQED’s  statewide public radio program, The California Report. Based in Fresno, she covers a vast geographic beat, including the nation’s most productive farm belt, some of California’s poorest towns, and Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. Whether trekking up a Sierra glacier with her microphone, interviewing farmworkers in Spanish, or explaining complicated air or water quality issues, Sasha translates rural California to the rest of the state. Sasha  is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Brown University, and the mother of two young children. @KQEDSashaKhokha

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