Submitted by Lacy Litten
The Santa Maria Times recently published a story where the United Farm Workers Foundation (UFW) and Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) were rallying for farmworker and community protection against chlorpyrifos. Improper and over-exposure to the pesticide has been proven dangerous. Concerns from farmworkers and community members are not unjustified, however, many strides have been made to reduce chlorpyrifos use and increase worker protection.
In 2000, Dow Chemical Co., registrants of chlorpyrifos, voluntarily entered into an agreement with the EPA to modify, eliminate, and phase out some uses. In 2002, the EPA made changes to the chemical label instituting buffer zones, increasing personal protective equipment (PPE), and reducing application rates. The pesticide was part of a registration review process in 2011, where the EPA used findings of new studies and extensive new research to conduct a preliminary human health risk assessment. In 2012, EPA lowered aerial application rates, and created “no-spray” buffer zones around public spaces, such as schools, homes, and recreational areas. In 2014 and again in 2016, chlorpyrifos underwent a revised human health risk assessment.
More recently, in March 2017, the EPA denied a petition to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances and cancel all chlorpyrifos registrations. “The Agency concluded that despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved and further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted” (source). Chlorpyrifos is currently under registration review and the assessment should be completed by 10/1/22.
At the CAUSE and UFW rally, farmworkers claimed that the government was failing them, requesting more to be done beyond the “minimal protections proposed by the state.” What they fail to realize/acknowledge is that California farmers have to comply with over 70 state laws before they can even apply most pesticides, in addition to federal laws (source). It should also be taken into consideration, all the revisions that the Worker Protection Standard has undergone to protect agricultural employees. That’s not even mentioning the County Ag Commissioner, Cal-OSHA, Department of Labor, and all the other regulatory agencies that have a hand in protecting agricultural workers.
Locally, chlorpyrifos use has declined dramatically since the early nineties, with over 3,300 applications in 1991 compared to 47 applications in Santa Barbara County in 2015. Compare the local 47 applications to the 15,765 applications throughout the rest of the state in 2015 (source), and I would commend our local farmers for proactively seeking alternatives.
I understand the desire of farmworkers to stand up for their rights. It’s no different than me writing my perspective on behalf of the industry, confidently rallying behind the measures we have in place to protect our workers. But the public should be made aware of all the facts before forming an opionion.