Pesticide That Could Impact Children's Health is Still Widely Used in Many States
January 16, 2020 | Joce Sterman and Alex Brauer | WWMT
SALINAS, Calif. (SBG) — For two decades, a pesticide that studies say may impact children’s growing brains has been banned for use in your garden. But it’s still being used by commercial farmers in nearly every state. Experts say failures by the federal government to stop its use may put children across the country at risk.
The California classroom where Oscar Ramos teaches is filled with children growing up just like he did. In the so-called "Salad Bowl of America," Ramos says the focus has always been on the farm. "My alarm clock in the morning was a helicopter spraying pesticides in our backyard," Ramos recalled from his childhood, which included growing up in a labor camp. "Fortunately, I never got sick. My family never got sick. But some of my friends weren't that fortunate."
When it comes to health impacts from living in an agricultural community, Ramos says his students have not been spared. Over more than 20 years of teaching, he told Spotlight on America he’s watched more and more children get added to a list of students with health and learning problems. He believes it's as a result of exposure to pesticides, "As a teacher, chlorpyrifos is the one that scares me the most because it’s the one that affected their ability to learn. You see it in their faces where they want to learn, they’re listening, and they’re looking and they get frustrated."
Chlorpyrifos is an inexpensive and effective pesticide considered essential by the agriculture industry for decades. According to government maps, it’s widely used on farms in at least 45 states that grow the food we eat every day. It's used to protect apples, citrus fruit, grapes, broccoli, cauliflower, almonds and other crops from insects. But it can be ingested by humans through residue on food, water contamination, and most critically when it’s sprayed down onto fields from airplanes and up into trees by machines, and then carried in the wind.
That's a major point of concern for groups like Safe Ag, Safe Schools, a program that comes out of a collaboration with Californians for Pesticide Reform. Sarait Martinez explained the potential for harm to students, telling us, "When we have a school that is near the fields and there’s pesticides applied, the drift that happens has a different impact. It goes into their mouth, their bodies and we’re not accounting for that." In many farming communities, Martinez expressed concern about the lack of buffers of protection between agricultural fields, schools and homes. Even where some regulated buffers exist, like in California for example, she says they're not enough.
The risk is particularly high for children and babies. Numerous studies show chlorpyrifos can impact brain development, leading to lower IQs, learning disabilities, and disorders like ADHD and increased anxiety. Dr. Gina Solomon, the Yale and Harvard educated principal investigator at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California, said, "As we’ve learned more about it, we’ve realized this is a very toxic chemical. We need to be very concerned about it."