In the Wind

Safe Ag Safe Schools’ chief concern is the continued use of toxic or cancerous pesticides—like the known neurotoxin chlorpyrifos—near schools, like Chualar Elementary School (pictured), which shares a fence with an agricultural field.

On July 19, members of Safe Ag Safe Schools met in a small room at the office of California Rural Legal Assistance in East Salinas. Hunched over the last bites of their burritos, the group, which aims to reduce the use of pesticides, chatted about the resignation of Scott Pruitt from the Environmental Protection Agency before getting down to serious business. On the agenda: the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s annual air monitoring report, with data for 2017, which had been released three days prior.

The draft report shows results from DPR’s four air monitors; two of the four sit within Monterey County. One is at Ohlone Elementary School in Pajaro, and another at a well in Chualar.

According to DPR spokesperson Charlotte Fadipe, all 31 pesticides and five pesticide breakdown products analyzed were detected below the agency’s health screening levels. “[DPR] found them below levels that indicate a health concern,” Fadipe writes by email.

Members of Safe Ag Safe Schools objects to some of the report’s findings, mainly its assessment of 1,3-dichloropropene, better known on the market as Telone. It’s used for crops like potatoes and strawberries, and is known to cause cancer.

Since 2011, DPR has detected Telone at an average of 0.11 parts per billion at its Ohlone monitor; the 2017 report once again measured 0.11 parts per billion, or ppb.

“Is that high? Or is that low?” Safe Ag Safe Schools co-director Mark Weller said during the July 19 meeting.

The answer is: It depends. Group members point out that while 0.11 ppb is under DPR’s allowable risk level – 0.56 ppb – it’s above what the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommends.

In a 2016 letter to DPR, OEHHA Chief Deputy Director Alan Hirsch suggested that the risk level for Telone be set at 0.10 ppb. The letter criticized DPR’s analysis, specifically for failing to account for the risk of exposure in children. “OEHHA recommended that the age sensitivity factor to address age-related sensitivity to [Telone] carcinogenicity be included in the estimation of the human cancer potency factor,” Hirsch wrote.

“DPR does not consider children different from adults,” Weller says.

He and others in Safe Ag Safe Schools are also critical of DPR for not considering how dangerous pesticides are in combination with each other, like Telone combined with the fumigant chloropicrin.

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Most of the pesticides were not traceable, or found in only trace amounts statewide. But 10 (Telone among them) were deemed quantifiable in DPR’s report. Those also include chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos OA.

These pesticides, which are used in Monterey County mostly on strawberry crops, have been the subject of debate at the federal level. Before Pruitt was appointed to run the EPA, a regulatory process was in motion that could have led to banning chlorpyrifos in the U.S. That process, a pesticide registration review, stopped midway.

Weller says their expectations have changed with the administration: “We started this campaign in the Obama administration, and we complained about the way [the EPA’s] did their science. Now, we’re just hoping that they refer to science.

Editor's Note: A previous caption read that chlorpyrifos was a cancerous pesticide. Chlorpyrifos is a known neurotoxin and does not cause cancer according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. 

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Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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