California Passes Bill to Tackle Pesticide Drift

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 9, 2013.  California Governor Jerry Brown has signed Assembly Bill 304, a bill designed to protect people from harmful pesticides identified as Toxic Air Contaminants (TACs). The bill will require the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to develop mitigation measures for the use of harmful pesticides that vaporize and drift from application sites. California, a major user of pesticidefumigants, has tried to tackle to prevalence of pesticide drift in the state, and is one of few states that monitor air-borne pesticides.

AB 304: “Pesticides: toxic air contaminant: control measures” introduced by Assembly member Das G. Williams (D-Santa Barbara), gives the DPR two years to reduce the effects of harmful air toxins once the department determines that additional mitigation measures are necessary. Fumigants are some of the most dangerous pesticides on the market and include the controversial methyl iodide. They are applied in large quantities, vaporize easily, drift away and expose nearby farmworkers and other community members to harm, with health effects linked to headaches, vomiting, severe lung irritation, and neurological effects. Some fumigants are linked to cancer, reduced fertility, birth defects and higher rates of miscarriage.

“Californians have a right to breathe clean air, and not worry if it will make them or their families sick,” said Anne Katten of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. “Pesticide exposure can cause serious immediate and long-term health impacts —from asthma attacks to cancer. By setting a timeline for adopting controls, this law will reduce pesticide exposure and help people across the state, especially farmworkers and others living near agricultural fields —to breathe a little more safely.”

According to DPR, California’s Toxic Air Contaminant Act creates the statutory framework for the evaluation and control of chemicals as toxic air contaminants (TACs). DPR must determine the levels of human exposure in the environment and estimate the potential human health risk from those exposures. DPR must also determine and implement the appropriate degree of control measures for the pesticide. The agency conducts air monitoring studies for pesticides that are candidate toxic air contaminants, as well as for pesticides that are designated as toxic air contaminants. See Framework here. In general, two types of monitoring are conducted: ambient monitoring in selected communities, to measure concentrations over several weeks or months, and application-site monitoring in the immediate vicinity of specific pesticide applications to measure concentrations over several hours or days.

California has one of the highest use rates of fumigants in the country. To tackle farmers’ reliance on fumigants, a plan was created by the Nonfumigant Strawberry Production Working Group (the strawberry sector is heavily reliant on fumigants) to develop non-fumigant management strategies. However, even as the working group acknowledged the health and environmental risks posed by the continued use of fumigants, the plan remained conservative in its recommendations, concluding that, “Even with full commitment to implement this action plan, the strawberry industry will need to continue its use of fumigants for years to remain viable in California,” even though growing strawberries organically without the use of fumigants has been shown to be effective.

Recently, the state published its air monitoring report, which found detections of the highly toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in nearly 30% of air tests conducted in three high risk communities surrounded by intensive agriculture. Low residues of other pesticides were detected in the majority of the samples collected. The communities in this monitoring study were selected from a list of 226 communities in the state based on pesticide use on surrounding farmland and demographics, including the percentage of children, the elderly and farm workers in the local population. However, critics of the state pesticide air monitoring efforts say that DPR’s sampling is not representative of real agricultural exposures, i.e., during and after pesticide application.

A 2010 PAN report  revealed that fumigant pesticides, like chloropicrin, contaminated half of the 57 air samples collected, with average levels of exposure over the 19-day period at 23 to 151 times higher than acceptable cancer risks. Earlier this year, DPR proposed restrictions on the use of chloropicrin, commonly applied to strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, raspberries, and blackberries. The proposed rule would not only increase buffer zones around application sites, but also restrict application acreage, impose notification requirements, enhance emergency preparedness requirements, and prolong the time that chloropicrin-applied fields must remain covered.

Farmers, farmworkers, their families and those living in close proximity to agricultural fields face disproportionate pesticide risks, especially volatile fumigants. These fumigants can quickly move from fields to nearby homes and communities, many occupied by farmworkers. An average of 57.6 out of every 100,000 agricultural workers experience acute pesticide poisoning, illness or injury each year, the same order of magnitude as the annual incidence rate of breast cancer in the United States. The federal government estimates that there are 10,000-20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually, a figure that likely understates the actual number of acute poisonings.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Noozhawk, Santa Barbara,