Why won’t our state pesticide regulators keep us safe from Telone? Why won’t they follow the science?
Farmworker activist and organizer Yanely Martinez says the Department of Pesticide Regulation is “environmentally racist” and not following science in its latest draft of pesticide regulations. The draft, released July 25, allows farm owners to spray the carcinogenic pesticide Telone at levels state scientists have determined are dangerous, she says. The impact of the guidelines will “establish a standard of protection for Latino and Indigenous farmworker communities that is 14 times weaker than for other communities,” she writes. Here, she pens an open letter asking the DPR director to reduce Telone use in Santa Cruz County. DPR is scheduled to make a final decision on Telone regulations on Nov. 7.
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I am a longtime activist and organizer for Safe Ag Safe Schools who has been fighting for environmental justice for our community for the past seven years. Most recently, I have worked to push the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to tighten restrictions on the carcinogenic pesticide 1,3-D, also known as Telone, which is used regularly on crops in Santa Cruz County and is often sprayed near 10 Watsonville schools.
Unfortunately, state regulators have repeatedly ignored the pleas of the farmworkers and their families who are regularly sickened by the pesticides and the science, which shows we are using this pesticide at too-high levels in our community.
Despite these pleas, on July 25 the DPR released a new draft of regulations it plans to adopt on Nov. 7. This draft keeps Telone at dangerous levels and is unacceptable.
Here is my edited letter addressed to DPR’s director. I encourage those who care about this issue to write to DPR here and voice your concerns.
Dear California Department of Pesticide Regulation Director Julie Henderson:
Please do a better job for Santa Cruz County families and kids and agricultural workers exposed to pesticides.
The policy you have in place regarding the cancer-causing fumigant pesticide 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D) is environmentally racist. I and my Watsonville-based group Safe Ag Safe Schools call on you to withdraw it.
The policy on 1,3 D — in its current, second-draft form — adds little to protect our communities from this drift-prone, carcinogenic, toxic air contaminant that is the second-most sprayed pesticide in Santa Cruz County.
Your most recent 1,3-D regulations appear to solidify a state march toward a separate and unequal cancer risk standard for residents of farmworker communities than for others.
— Yanely Martinez, addressing California Department of Pesticide Regulation Director Julie Henderson
We are outraged by what you have omitted in this latest draft.
You have systematically ignored the standards established by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) last year. Those state scientists found 3.7 micrograms per day to be the cancer danger warning level for 1,3-D.
As such, farmworkers, kids, teachers and others who breathe air concentrated with 1,3-D at an average of 0.04 parts per billion for 24 hours would be exposed to 3.7 micrograms. We know children in our region are exposed to levels far above 0.04 parts per billion. Data collected from Ohlone Elementary School, just on the Monterey County side of the Pajaro River, has measured 1,3-D at 0.10 parts per billion – 2.5 times higher than OEHHA’s standard – since 2012.
This is one of only six pesticide air monitors in the entire state. But it gives us a good idea what data from Santa Cruz County schools might show.
In January, dozens of farmworkers and their families testified about this issue in front of DPR.
Then, thousands more wrote letters in May and posted public comments begging you to use the OEHHA numbers. Yet, to date, DPR refuses to even comment or acknowledge the existence of these numbers.
Over the past two months, I have heard the same questions over and over again from community members in the farmworker regions of Monterey Bay: Why won’t DPR keep us safe from 1,3-D? Why won’t DPR follow the science? How can DPR ignore the state cancer warning level?
I’m sure you can imagine that my response, “DPR won’t tell us,” is not satisfactory to our community members.
So we look at the evidence for explanations.
One of the quickest and unfortunate conclusions is that DPR is not engaging in good science.
I hope this is not true. But good scientists address all relevant research, including studies that do not support their work. Is DPR doing this? If so, please tell us how.
PESTICIDES IN THE PAJARO VALLEY
• Pressure mounts on pesticides near schools — especially those on Pajaro Valley outskirts
• Organic’s big South County moment: Might school-zone pesticide switch provide momentum for change?
• ‘What would we do without these people?’ A Q&A with ‘furious’ farmworker advocate Ann Lopez
COMMUNITY VOICES OPINION
• A Lookout View: We need to stop spraying pesticides around our children and schools
• Ag companies regularly spray my neighborhood with pesticides; it’s time to make them stop
• Listen to voices you rarely hear: the mothers who pick your strawberries. They say their kids are paying the price for our bounty.
As one member put it: “They should all be fired if they can’t defend their work like real scientists.”
We know there are some good scientists at DPR — some have even volunteered with Californians for Pesticide Reform after retirement — and that the refusal to address OEHHA’s science likely comes from the top of DPR, not the scientists.
Who is making these decisions?
Without information on the decision-making process, rumors abound. One rumor is economic — that DPR wants to keep selling pesticides because 80% of its budget depends on the mill fee on the sale of pesticides. The common belief is that this funding biases your department and pushes it toward the lenient pesticide regulation you favor.
That, the belief goes, is why DPR has selected a cancer risk level 14 times more than OEHHA recommends. The level is also precisely the one Dow Chemical suggested.
Do you want this rumor to continue to circulate? If not, refute it with explanations.
Why does DPR trust Dow Chemical (a company that wants to continue making profits from its pesticide sales) over OEHHA (a publicly funded government department not reliant on pesticide sales with no economic interest in 1,3-D)?
Another terrible explanation is racism.
Your most recent 1,3-D regulations appear to solidify a state march toward a separate and unequal cancer risk standard for residents of farmworker communities than for others. As you know, farmworkers are predominantly Latino and Indigenous.
I remind you, more than 88% of all 1,3-D applications by pounds occurred in the 14 Latino-majority Monterey and Santa Cruz County ZIP codes. In those 14 ZIP codes — accounting for 45% of land area and 47% of the overall population of our region — is where more than three-quarters (77%) of Latinos and two-thirds (66%) of Indigenous people, but only 18% of white (“not Hispanic”) people, live.
The impact of your current guidelines will be devastating; it will establish a standard of protection for Latino and Indigenous farmworker communities that is 14 times weaker than for other communities.
Our members really want 1,3-D to be banned in California, as it has been in 34 countries. That would be real environmental justice.
Until then, we ask you to create a 1,3-D regulation that will limit air concentrations to 0.04 parts per billion, the safe harbor level established for all Californians by OEHHA.
We await your response.
Yanely Martinez is a community organizer for the Monterey Bay area coalition Safe Ag Safe Schools, the local branch of Californians for Pesticide Reform. She began her advocacy work in 2016 after being elected to the Greenfield City Council. She devoted 10 years of her life as a teacher in early childhood education, and as an in-home support caregiver for senior citizens.