The Watsonville City Council has put further action on pesticides on its upcoming agenda, even as concerned local groups are taking action against Monterey County’s agricultural commission.
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As the planting season continues to bring pesticide warnings to schools and neighborhoods of the Pajaro Valley, a growing movement by community advocacy groups to curb the use of those dangerous chemicals around schools is simmering.
Since Lookout reported on efforts by the Campaign for Organic and Regenerative Agriculture (CORA) to convince growers for berry giant Driscoll’s to go organic around school zones, two significant actions were taken last week.
First, the Watsonville City Council heard presentations from Santa Cruz County Agricultural Commissioner Juan Hidalgo and the leaders of CORA — followed by emotional testimony from a number of farmworker families who believe their children’s cancer, cognitive disorders and deformities have been caused by pesticide exposure. It was an informational item only, but the council has moved to put further action on an upcoming agenda.
Several days later, a coalition of concerned community groups sent a legal request to the Monterey County agricultural commissioner, alleging mishandling of restricted materials permits within a one-mile perimeter of Ohlone Elementary, Pajaro Middle and Hall District Elementary schools. The group has requested to review the documentation for permits that were granted, claiming there was “improper environmental review.”
All three schools are part of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, located in Santa Cruz County just over the Monterey County border, and surrounded by fields where the most toxic fumigants are used for conventional farming — including the long-controversial 1,3-dichloropropene, which has been banned multiple times and is once again facing scrutiny.
While the city council action could lead to a symbolic gesture by the city — perhaps a resolution declaring that growers should farm organically around schools — the second has legal implications and includes some harsh accusations against the oversight of Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales’ office.
Beyond what the coalition calls “improper review” of “highly toxic fumigants 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D) and chloropicrin,” a 50-page document sent by Earth Justice, the legal consortium representing the group, calls out a decade’s worth of air quality reports from Ohlone Elementary that show levels of the restricted fumigant 1,3-D exceeding what is known as “safe harbor” levels.
Gonzales, who is set to retire in December, has until later this week to respond to the filing. His office didn’t respond to an inquiry from Lookout about the group’s request for review.
Here’s the legal briefing filed by the coalition.