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More Monterey County schools to get heads up when pesticides are being sprayed nearby

April 24, 2019 | Eduardo Cuevas | The Californian

The move is part of the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner's 3-year-old pilot project aiming to better inform residents on fumigant use. 

Jim Bogart, president of the Grower-Shipper Association, said communities' access to information on pesticides is crucial.

"If (people) don't know or understand what's going on, they fear the worst," he said. "Anything that can alleviate that confusion or any misinformation is really, really good."

A 2014 study by the California Environmental Health Tracking Program—a collaboration with the state Department of Public Health and Public Health Institute—found Monterey County had some of the state's highest percentages of schools nearby where pesticides are applied.

Hispanic students, the study showed, were far more likely to be in schools close to the highest levels of pesticide use for public health concern.

Pesticides have been a common concern

Pesticides near schools have been community concern for years. Salinas Valley residents had packed meetings in 2016 about California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) proposed policy changes on pesticide application near schools. 

A 2018 state regulation now prohibits many pesticides being used within a quarter mile of schools and daycare facilities during regular hours.

As restricted use pesticides, fumigants are considered hazardous and require permitting to spray into the air or soil to eliminate pests, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure usually occurs by inhalation. 

As part of the pilot project, the county provides five-day notice for people within a quarter mile of planned fumigant application to crop fields adjacent to 10 schools in Monterey County.

Initially rolled out with three schools in 2016, seven north Monterey County schools have been added.

The new schools include most of North Monterey County Unified School District: Castroville Elementary, Central Bay High School, Echo Valley Elementary, Elkhorn Elementary, North Monterey County High School, North Monterey County Middle School and Prunedale Elementary.

Those who enroll with the project can receive text or email notifications from the agricultural commissioner's office. Schools also inform students and families.

Last year, the project unveiled its bilingual website, which provides information in English and Spanish about pesticide use regulations, locations and health facts. There's also a survey participants can take.

“It’s not something that’s required of us, but I think it’s a very wise thing to do for the community and for agriculture here locally,” Commissioner Henry Gonzales said at a Wednesday press conference.

The new changes were made possible with a $94,000 DPR grant that lasts until June 2020.

Rows of strawberries near McKinnon Elementary School. Pesticide 1,3-Dichloropropene (Telone) was used at ranches within a quarter mile in 2010, according to a state report. (Photo: Leslie Willoughby/For The Salinas Californian)

DPR Environmental Justice Liaison Martha Sánchez affirmed the need for state regulators to protect human health.

“I don’t want to see transparency, I want to see action,” she said. “This shows we are really, honestly out there. We are working with everyone to make this possible.”

Continue reading the full story in The Californian.