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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 15th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 37 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 37

Growing boundaries: State further restricts pesticide use near schools

By KASEY BUBNASH

Santa Barbara County is an agriculturally focused region where crops are often located at the center of cities, butting right up against neighborhoods and local businesses.

This prevalence of in-city crops presents the possibility of exposing closely neighboring residents to pesticides, including students and staff at some of Santa Maria Valley’s K-through-12 schools.

Because of health safety concerns, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) recently adopted rules that prohibit the application of pesticides on crops within a quarter-mile of K- through-12 schools or day care sites during working hours. The statewide regulations, which are similar to but more restrictive than Santa Barbara County’s already existing pesticide conditions, will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

The restrictions come after two years of public outreach regarding the issue, according to the DPR, a process that included three formal hearings and 15 public workshops in five locations, resulting in more than 19,000 public comments.

At the workshops, according to a DPR meeting summary, community members listed well-known immediate and long-term health effects related to pesticide exposure, ranging from nausea to kidney failure. Several teachers and parents said they’d known children who attended schools neighboring farms who later developed respiratory issues and cancer. Health professionals voiced concerns over increased birth defects in mothers who work on farms.

Community members largely urged the DPR to consider the safety of students, many of whom are still in early developmental stages and more vulnerable to exposure.

While many farmworkers said they had suffered chronic aliments after excessive fumigant exposure, others said they’d never been physically impacted. But many growers, according to the summary, were equally concerned with public safety, especially near schools.

“They said growers, their families, and the field workers live in the same community as the fields, and their children often attend the nearby schools,” the summary states. “Therefore growers have the incentive to use pesticides safely.”

 

Increased restrictions

Application of pesticides by aircraft, sprinklers, and air-blast sprayers will be prohibited on crops neighboring school and day care sites from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to the DPR’s new regulations. Most dust and powder pesticide applications, including sulfur, will also be prohibited during this time.

While pesticide application will be allowed when school and day care grounds are closed, the DPR’s regulations say fumigants must be applied at least 36 hours before schools and day care facilities open.

In addition to the new time and distance policies, growers will be required to provide the county agricultural commissioner and school or day care administrators with annual written reports on which pesticides will be used from July 1 of that year through June 30 of the next. If growers need to use a fumigant not included in the annual report, the commissioner and school sites must be informed at least 48 hours prior to the fumigant’s application.

While California already has various pesticide regulations in place, according to the DPR, the state’s population growth has caused more school and day care sites to be developed near working farms, thus increasing the potential for unintended exposure to pesticides.

The DPR estimates its new regulations will impact about 4,100 public K-through-12 schools and licensed child day care facilities and approximately 2,500 growers in California. About 50 school and day care sites will be affected in Santa Barbara County alone, according to Charlotte Fadipe, assistant director of the DPR.

“In general growers in [Santa Barbara County] have been very good about following our rules to protect people,” Fadipe said.

Currently, the county’s pesticide regulations only affect growers using California restricted materials near schools, according to Assistant Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner Rudy Martel, who said the new regulations apply to all pesticides.

Martel said local farmers are already prohibited from applying restricted fumigants to the ground within 500 feet and by air within 750 feet of schools where students are present. Even without students present, Martel said growers have to be 200 feet from a school when applying restricted pesticides by air. Still, the new regulations require a quarter-mile distance between schools and pesticide use.

County agricultural commissioners are expected to see an increased workload because of the new regulations, according to the DPR’s economic impact report, which says commissioners will need to provide outreach and training to growers, applicators, and schools. Commissioners will also be required to maintain geographic information systems, which the DPR is developing, and other data for school sites.

“Whenever there are new restrictions, there is always a new workload,” Martel said. “We’re kind of like the boots on the ground for the DPR when it comes to actually enforcing the regulations.”

 

Neighborly ties

Santa Barbara County’s current pesticide conditions, unlike the DPR’s new regulations, did not require growers to notify commissioners or schools of pesticide use, a process that the DPR estimates will cost each grower more than $1,000 extra every year.

But local farmers were already communicating with schools, Martel said. Maggie White, public information officer for Santa Maria-Bonita School District, agreed.

“We have a very good relationship with our nearby growers and farmers,” White said. “I think just by nature of this being an agricultural community, our community is comfortable with working with the farmers and growers in the area.”

Five schools within the Santa Maria-Bonita School District are near working farms, White said, and the schools are typically informed of upcoming pesticide applications and the district provides farmers with the school calendar.

White could only recall one incident with pesticides, when a few kitchen staffers noticed an odd smell in the school while making breakfast before students arrived. It was determined to be fumigants, White said, and the situation was handled. It was minor and happened several years ago, she explained.

“We just expect that the farmers and growers within these boundaries will abide by the regulations,” White said.

The DPR expects the regulations will mostly affect almond and grape growers throughout the state, according to the economic impact statement. Many farmers are still processing the news of upcoming pesticide restrictions, according to Claire Wineman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

“I have not gotten the sense that anyone has really digested it yet,” Wineman said. “But we absolutely advocate for policies being made based on solid science and for safe practices.”

 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached by email at kbubnash@santamariasun.com.




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