Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen, Cesar Lara, Director of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council and Juan Uranga, the Executive Director of the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) announced the initiation of a model program to enhance protections when pesticides are used near schools.
The pilot project — first of its kind in the state – provides five-day notice when fumigants are applied near the three schools and will launch a website to keep schools’ parents, teachers and staff informed on farm fumigations and answer questions and concerns. The project will help address concerns about pending pesticide applications and other questions related to pesticide use near schools.
“We want to create an effective, efficient, and transparent approach to providing information about pesticide use and the precautions taken to safeguard schools’ students, teachers and staff. We need to explore the manner and means to deliver information that is timely, accurate and clear. Nothing like this has been done before,” said Lauritzen.
A review committee with diverse membership and support from County Health officials will ensure that the Website meets its objectives. The committee will also serve as a bridge to engage interested members of the community, including parents, school administrators and teachers, growers, health professionals, farmworker and labor representatives, and County regulators. Lauritzen said he will launch the project immediately.
“The key to all this is collaboration by local farmworker leaders, ag industry leaders, Monterey County health officials and community-based organizations” noted Juan Uranga, the Executive Director of the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA). “If we engage in productive conversations, we can get good things done,” continued Uranga, “We do not need outside folk with no commitment to our community to come in and tell us what to do.” CCA recently helped to establish a Farmworker Advisory Committee to the Office of the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner, the first of its kind in California.
The County received funding and support from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) in response to its proposal for an outreach program, developed in consultation with key school, community labor and agricultural leaders. Upon completion of the project, a report with findings will be provided to DPR.
While state and local pesticide regulations have long provided special safeguards for schools and other sensitive sites, the Monterey County pilot project will add easy access to information related to pesticide use in the general vicinity of schools. Three Pajaro Valley Unified schools – Ohlone and Hall Elementary, and Pajaro Middle School – will receive five days’ advance notice for any fumigant pesticide application within one-quarter mile of each school. Some additional applications beyond the quarter-mile buffer will also be considered, said Lauritzen. “We will continue our longstanding practice to prohibit fumigations during school hours,” he added.
Lauritzen noted that the County pilot project represents an important step toward a more extensive, permanent information network. “It’s logical to begin with fumigants because they are recognized as pesticides of interest, both for regulators and the community,” he said. “Our ultimate objective is to provide an additional measure of understanding and confidence in our regulatory system related to all pesticide use, especially where children are involved.”