Pesticide Use Near Schools Poses Potential Health Risks
By Megan Kaun and Nichole Warwick
As our children return to school, beauty surrounds many Sonoma County campuses, with bucolic hillsides and sprawling farmland. Yet, unseen toxicity lies within and around these rural schools. For the first time, data about this toxicity is now available to inform parents and the community.
New information about agricultural pesticide use has been released by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) for ~100 public schools and preschools in Sonoma County, which lie within 1/4 mile of farms using pesticides.
This data shows us that many dangerous pesticides are in use in very close proximity to schools. It also provides us with an opportunity to engage in an informed conversation with schools and farmers.
Toxic Pesticide Use Near Sonoma County Schools
Pesticides, including weed killers (herbicides), insecticides, and fungicides, are used commonly in Sonoma County. Synthetic or man-made pesticides are long-lasting toxicants in the environment, linked to many human health problems. Children are particularly vulnerable to toxicants like pesticides. Many are known carcinogens (cancer-causing) and endocrine disruptors, which affect development and reproductive health in both males and females.
Vineyards dominate agriculture near schools, and the vast majority (around 98%) of Sonoma County vineyard land is managed using synthetic pesticides. Though the Sonoma County Winegrowers Association has a goal to certify all vineyards “Sonoma Sustainable” by 2019, certification does not require vineyards to reduce pesticide use.
The most commonly-used herbicide by farmers in Sonoma County is glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp.Thirty-seven (37) tons of glyphosate were used on Sonoma County farms in 2016. Glyphosate was listed by California Proposition 65 as a known carcinogen in July 2017. In August 2018 a jury ordered Monsanto, the maker of RoundUp, to pay a school maintenance worker with terminal non-Hodgkins lymphoma $289.2 million for failure to warn consumers that exposure to RoundUp weedkiller can cause cancer. Low dose exposure to glyphosate is also associated with birth defects, endocrine disorders, and liver/kidney disorders. This pesticide has been used for decades by people assuming it was “safe as salt”. This should remind us that pesticides are designed to kill and should be avoided wherever possible.
Other commonly used pesticides in Sonoma County are linked to serious health effects. For example, the active ingredient chlorpyrifos, present in products Renegade and Lorsban Advanced, has been associated with developmental disabilities and neurotoxicity in children. In August 2018, a US federal appeals court ordered the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. Other common products like Torino, Luna Experience, Sovran, Rally 40, Goal Tender, and PH-D Fungicide all contain active ingredients considered to be “Bad Actors” (carcinogens, reproductive, developmental, or neurotoxins) by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). All of these products are currently used within 1/4 mile of Sonoma County schools.
Children are More Vulnerable
Children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of toxic exposure, including lower IQs, birth defects, developmental delays, autism, ADHD, and cancer. Immediate effects of pesticide exposure can mimic allergies or viral/bacterial infections and include headaches, difficulty breathing, asthma, unusual behaviors and sensory sensitivities, etc. Local doctors like Michelle Perro, MD, author of What’s Making our Children Sick routinely treat neurological and behavioral problems in children by limiting exposure to pesticides in food and the environment.
Sonoma County has the 3rd highest childhood cancer rate of California's 58 counties, according to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health. (Humboldt is 1st, Solano is 2nd, and Sonoma is tied with Napa for 3rd.) With statistics like this, it is so important to examine all potential risks and threats to our children’s health and well-being. The interface of schools and farms poses extraordinary health risks.
The California Environmental Health Tracking Program provides a resource with statewide pesticide use data on a color-coded map. It should be noted that the majority of applied pesticides in our county are sulfur, mineral oil, and adjuvants/surfactants (chemicals that help pesticides work better). However, large quantities of “Bad Actor” pesticides are also being used, and this map provides relative indicators of pesticide loads.