PESTICIDES: Too Close To Schools, Says Watchdog Group
"Students at hundreds of California schools could be at risk of exposure to dangerous levels of the pesticide methyl bromide, according to a report released Wednesday," the Los Angeles Times reports. Methyl bromide is an extremely toxic soil fumigant which California farmers use on a variety of crops. Due to its effect on the ozone layer, it will be banned nationwide in 2001, but until then, farmers consider it "invaluable." The Environmental Working Group found that 18 million pounds of the substance were applied in 1995. More disturbing to the researchers, however, was that "about 2.4 million pounds were applied within 1.5 miles of 758 California schools -- and that 73,000 students attended the 107 schools where use exceeded 10,000 pounds a year." At the greatest risk are farm communities in Monterey, Ventura and Santa Cruz. Health problems related to over exposure to the fumigant include flu-like symptoms, nerve damage and reproductive problems in women. State officials "said Wednesday that the potent fumigant poses no health hazard when used properly, as is nearly always the case. Existing buffer zones and other precautions protect the public, they said."
State Assemblywoman Liz Figueroa (D-Freemont) has introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of methyl bromide within 1,000 feet of schools or homes. The bill is set for a hearing next Tuesday. Figueroa said, "This state has completely failed in its responsibility to protect children and families from the harmful effects of methyl bromide." Current law provides a buffer zone of 100 feet around schools, but a slew of complaints have underscored a need for a greater distance requirement. After Ventura residents complained in 1996 about "headaches, stomachaches and dizziness -- tests found drifting methyl bromide in levels that averaged 294 parts per billion over a 12-hour period, far exceeding the state safety standard of 210 parts per billion over 24 hours." However, "[s]tate pesticide regulators discounted the significance of the new study and said no new guidelines are needed." Veda Federighi, spokesperson for the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, said, "We certainly hold up our science against their science, and our buffer zones are based on extensive testing" (Kelley, 4/9).