Latino children 320 percent more prone to pesticide exposure while at school, causing learning disabilities and cancer

Wednesday, December 09, 2015 by: Julie Wilson staff writer

Two summers ago we learned that nearly 500 elementary schools in the U.S. are located within 200 feet of farmlands heavily sprayed with toxic agrochemicals, directly impacting the health of attending students. Already facing adversity due to their socioeconomic status, children in lower income regions are the most at risk because of their schools’ frequent proximity to farmland, allowing students to be more exposed to pesticide drift.

For example, a 2014 report released by the California Department of Public Health found that students in Pajaro Valley “face the highest statewide rates of exposure to pesticides,” writes health food blogger Sally Neas, a Santa Cruz resident who also teaches nutrition in the region. “Many schools are located next to strawberry fields, where a cocktail of drift-prone, hazardous pesticides are routinely applied,” she says.

Unlike in Santa Cruz, where schools are surrounded by organic agriculture, Latino-majority schools in Pajaro Valley are located near fields where strawberries and other produce are grown, and frequently doused in toxic herbicides. Latino children in nearby Monterey County are 320 percent more likely to be exposed to pesticides while at school than their white peers, says Neas, pointing to data from the Department of Public Health.

“Children are like sponges, they literally soak up what’s in their environment”

“The median income of Watsonville is almost half of what it is statewide, and many Watsonville children are facing the adversities of poverty — including food and housing insecurity, or lack of access to medical care,” Neas says. “On top of that, they may face developmental delays, disabilities or cancer as a result of frequent exposure to pesticides because current state policy is insufficient.

“All of this is happening to the young, developing minds and bodies of our schoolchildren. There is a saying in education that children are like sponges — they literally soak up what’s in their environment. And, unfortunately, what we’re exposing students to in Watsonville — along with over a half million other schoolchildren in the state — is hazardous pesticides.”

In 2012, the known carcinogen Telone, a fumigant pesticide, was discovered “at levels exceeding cancer risk at one Watsonville elementary school.” Despite repeated requests to suspend the use of the chemical, California officials continue to side with pesticide makers.

“California officials are treating cancer-causing pesticides like cell phone minutes. Despite clear evidence that they exceed state-mandated safety levels, they have allowed growers to bank or roll-over Telone use from year-to-year,” said Sarah Aird, acting executive director of Californians for Pesticide Reform.

“Lung-damaging chloropicrin” was also discovered at high levels, this time at a teacher’s home in Watsonville, which is farther away from fields than many Pajaro Valley Schools, says Neas.

Chloropicrin, an inherently dangerous pesticide responsible for mass poisonings, was formerly used as a weapon during World War I. It’s so potent that it can even penetrate gas masks.

Activists push for pesticide buffer zones around schools

Attempting to curb the health effects accrued by students, especially Latinos, PAN, in collaboration with Californians for Pesticide Reform, are working hard to establish one-mile buffer zones of no pesticide use around California schools.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation hoped to propose new rules by the end of 2015 requiring “growers to implement buffer zones, notify parents and school administrators of nearby pesticide use or limit their use of certain application methods,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

However, due to the amount of public comments received, the pesticide regulation has been delayed until Febrary, reports Ventura County Star. The new regulations are set to go into effect in 2017.

“As communities like Santa Cruz show, vibrant sustainable agriculture doesn’t have to rely on heavy pesticide use,” Neas says.

“State officials should encourage growers to use land near schools as innovation zones, places to practice pesticide-free farming and test new methods. These simple changes — one-mile buffers and agriculture innovations zones — can have huge impacts on this generation of California schoolchildren and those to come.”

For more information, or to get involved, visit


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