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 the host of The California Report  weekly magazine program, which takes listeners on sound-rich radio excursions around the Golden State. As The California Report's Central Valley Bureau Chief for nearly a dozen years, Sasha brought the lives and concerns of rural Californians to listeners around the state. Sasha's reporting helped exposed the hidden price immigrant women janitors and farmworkers may pay to keep their jobs: sexual assault at work -- and helped change California law with regard to sexual harassment of farmworkers.  She's won a national PRNDI award for investigative reporting, as well as multiple prizes from the Radio Television News Directors Association and the Society for Professional Journalists. She began her radio career in waterproof overalls, filing stories about the salmon fishery at Raven Radio in Sitka, AK. She has produced and reported for several documentary films. Calcutta Calling, about children adopted from India to Swedish-Lutheran Minnesota, was nominated for an Emmy Award. Sasha is  a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Brown University, and is the mother of two young children.

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