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Protect our Children, Protect our Future - Agricultural Pesticides

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Protect our Children, Protect our Future - Agricultural Pesticides

By Tim Sergent

As a ten-year veteran Special Education teacher I have seen first hand the struggles our children with learning disabilities go through. For six of those years I taught at James Monroe Elementary in West Santa Rosa, a school with 95% Latino students. 

As a teacher, I sought to make the curriculum relevant to my students, and given that I had students whose parents worked growing and harvesting uvas (grapes) we studied the lives of children who worked in the fields. We were touched and amazed to read about children who work in agriculture at a very young age. As someone who believed that child labor had been relegated to the history books a long time ago, I was shocked to learn that children as young as 10 years old are allowed to work in our strawberry fields. The first person child narratives in the book Voices from the Fields describe the children’s fondness for working in the bucolic countryside next to siblings and parents, yet they also detail dizziness, headaches, and an inability to maintain focus at school.

These anecdotes were given alarming validity with the release of Pesticide Action Network’s (PAN) May 10th report “Kids on the Frontline.” PAN held media events across the state including one at our own Sebastopol Grange. The event was co-sponsored by the Watertrough Childrens’ Alliance with whom I am proud to support. PAN’s report details the growing body of evidence detailing the harmful effects of pesticides on our youth, especially those that live in close proximity to health harming pesticides. 

Among the alarming statistics is the growing prevalence of asthma and childhood cancers. As a youth growing up in Southern Oregon, even with the lumber mills and pear orchard smudge pots, asthma was a rarity. Now California has some of the highest asthma rates in the country, with Merced County having an astonishing of 32.5 % of children affected, almost four times the national average of 8.6 percent. In addition, childhood cancer rates have increased by 35% since 1975. PAN’s report also details how living in close proximity to the application of pesticides has lead to increased incidents of autism and 7 point decreases in IQ, enough to drop a child from average to below average IQ. The report quotes a 2014 UC Davis study of more than 1,600 children in California’s Central Valley which found that women who lived within a mile of where organophosphate insecticides were applied during pregnancy had a 60 percent increased risk of having children with autism. 

These and many other studies provide proof positive that we must take action to protect our children, who hold the keys to our future. Children up to age 12 breath in twice the volume of air as their adult counterparts, and as such are much more susceptible to the harmful effect of pesticides. Given my personal experience of feeling the burning sensation in my nose and lungs from drifting chemical applications miles from our campus, I support creating PAN’s recommendations of creating a one-mile pesticide free buffer zones around school campuses. Sonoma County has many proven examples of successful biodynamic, pesticide free vineyards to draw upon. Let us follow their lead to provide our children with a safe, healthy, learning environment, for if we protect our children, we protect our future.