As children are heading back to school across California this month, they are confronted with the reality that hazardous agricultural pesticides are sprayed right outside classroom windows, with few safeguards in place. Pesticides drift and accumulate in water, exposed food and dust inside homes surrounded by agricultural fields.
Children in agricultural areas are most vulnerable to toxic pesticide exposure facing a double dose: both at home and during school hours.
Often the only barrier between schoolchildren and pesticides is a thin metal fence. It should be of no surprise that a majority of 500,000 of children near fields are Latino. It’s an issue of environmental justice. In a 2014 study, the California Department of Public Health found that Latino students are nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to attend schools near the heaviest and most hazardous pesticide use.
Parents send their children to school anticipating that their schools offer and environment for learning. In contrast, children attending schools near fields experience nausea, challenges breathing and other side effects that influence a child’s academic performance. What makes the circumstance more precarious is that pesticide exposure can lead to respiratory problems, nervous system, and brain damage throughout their lifetime, conditions that no child should have to bear.
Farmers are not at fault for searching for possible ways to control farm pests, as they are missing support to keep their operations sustainable and prosperous. Without real support from public agencies and academic institutions, in addition to investments in long term conservation practices, the farming system will continue to be broken.
Therefore parents and teachers are holding the Department of Pesticide Regulations accountable to implement stronger rules that that address methods and application of toxic pesticides near schools. In particular they are calling for 1-mile buffer zones around schools, and an end to outdated and volatile methods of application like fumigation, aerial spraying and air blasters. The Department of Pesticide Regulation has the opportunity to set California on the right course and provide better protections for schoolchildren when it implements new rules in the coming weeks.
Adriana Murguia is a policy fellow with PAN North America based in Sacramento.