Under the direct involvement of Gov. Gavin Newsom, CalEPA on Thursday issued guidance directing county ag commissioners to continue enforcing pesticide restrictions near schools.
The reminder comes as the agricultural industry, an essential workforce, is "struggling with major supply chain disruptions," according to a statement by the state's largest farm groups Thursday. Farmers have also had difficulty finding N95 masks and other equipment to protect their own workers during pesticide applications. A survey this week by the California Farm Bureau Federation found that about 30% of the farmers were “unable to undertake routine planting, cultivation or crop-care activities due to lack of PPE, such as respiratory protection.”
In 2017, the state began restricting pesticide applications within a quarter mile of schools when children are present, requiring as well notifications to schools for each spray. While schools are “physically closed” during the stay-at-home order and there have been no reports of drift incidents or illnesses, the administration remained concerned.
“Schools are being used for all kinds of things: food pantries, emergency shelters, places where residents are gathering, for instance, homeless residents,” CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld told Agri-Pulse.
DPR Director Val Dolcini also framed the issue around air quality, with the state facing “not just a pandemic” but “the most serious respiratory health crisis we've seen in decades.” He said communication is critical at this time and commissioners should maintain dialogue with communities.
Blumenfeld said the administration wanted to “really prioritize enforcement in this area” and “notify the public of applications with enough time.” He added the order had stemmed from Ventura County residents who had voiced concern to Newsom last month.
The county has held an often contentious urban-rural relationship and has been at the center of pushback against pesticides. Last year, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to ban the herbicide glyphosate, a decision its staff members found could cost the county an additional $28 million per year. The county wanted to be the first to fully ban the products, but later allowed some exemptions, such as for preventing wildfires along roadsides. Sec. Blumenfeld had met with the supervisors on the issue and at one point referred to the herbicide as "poison," said board member Linda Parks at a public hearing on the decision.