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Coalition of Health and Environmental Groups Challenges State’s Pesticide Plan

Groups point out health and safety threats from pesticide use, need for public involvement
July 25, 2011
Oakland, CA —

A coalition of groups, including moms, water protection advocates, teens, cities, and health and environmental organizations today challenged the State of California’s current planning process to control and eradicate pests. The state’s programs often include spraying harmful pesticides, some of which drift onto homes and people.

The group’s letter, prepared by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, was sent to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) today. It points to flaws in the agency’s proposal to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) for its pest programs throughout California. The PEIR covers “an undisclosed number of plant pest prevention and management programs and activities implemented by CDFA throughout California.”

The groups contend that the state’s current “one size fits all” approach to fighting agricultural and other pests does not prioritize least toxic methods that avoid use of harmful pesticides, nor does it account the heightened risks these chemical pose to vulnerable populations, such as children. The groups argue that the state must evaluate the risks posed by pests based on sound science and consider the actual environmental impacts of pest management activities, which are likely to be highly dependent on site-specific environmental variables, such as geography and climatic conditions.

In addition, the letter raises concern that the agency’s proposal would restrict the public from having a voice in pest control and eradication programs carried out in communities far into the future.

“It is puzzling that the state is proceeding with a multi-million-dollar EIR for a pest management approach that is outdated, costly, and ineffective. If they modernize their program first, it would likely have far fewer environmental impacts, so the scope of environmental review could be much less sweeping and costly—and the process would be much less likely to lead to litigation,” said Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative, one of the groups represented by the letter.

“The state’s proposal raises serious questions about when and where pest eradication projects will occur, how will the public be informed, and what will be the impacts to public health and the environment,” said Earthjustice attorney Erin Tobin. “If the state intends to cut the public out of future pesticide projects, this PEIR will be vulnerable to legal challenge.”

The groups demand that the state change its pest eradication planning to include:

  • evaluation of the scientific bases for CDFA’s current “quarantine and spray” approach
  • the costs of CDFA’s pest programs as well as their effectiveness at actually controlling or eradicating pests
  • the impacts of the state’s practices on the growers whose products and livelihoods pest management programs are intended to protect
  • the criteria (if any) CDFA uses to determine whether pests are a serious environmental risk
  • the impact of global warming on the arrival and spread of pests in California
  • CDFA’s current practice of declaring “emergencies” for pest eradication projects instead of following CEQA’s procedures for preparing EIRs prior to taking action.

“It is critical that the PEIR rigorously evaluate how the state decides whether a pest poses an environmental risk and should be eradicated, as well as how effective its current practices are in actually controlling or eradicating pests,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director for Center for Environmental Health. “As we recently saw with the light brown apple moth, the state’s determination that the moth posed a serious threat was inaccurate. The apple moth has done no damage in the three years since CDFA declared it an emergency. When decisions about pest threats become justification for spraying in communities and on food, those decisions must be transparent and based on sound science.”

The group called for an alternative planning process led by an independent body that would bring stakeholders together to create a less toxic, less costly, and more effective pest control plan that would be easier for farmers to comply with. This call has been ignored by the state agency leading to the letter sent today.

“The state’s project description says that one objective of the PEIR is to minimize human health impacts of pest treatments; however, nothing else in the document addresses health impacts. CDFA’s past history, from aerial spraying for the medfly 30 years ago to aerial spraying for the apple moth 3 years ago, makes clear that the agency’s approach does not prioritize protecting human health and is sorely in need of updating. But, unfortunately, the PEIR project description indicates that the PEIR will focus on CDFA’s business-as-usual approach,” said Debbie Friedman, Chairperson of MOMS Advocating Sustainability (MAS), another of the groups on whose behalf the letter was prepared.

“One ostensible purpose of the PEIR is to avoid the repeated emergency declarations for pests that have been the agency’s pattern. How can a PEIR address emergencies when, under CEQA’s definition, they are unexpected occurrences? The real question the agency must ask is whether it is justified to treat pests as emergencies. Lack of time to complete legally required environmental review does not constitute an emergency,” said Jason Flanders, Staff Attorney at San Francisco Baykeeper, one of the groups joining in the Earthjustice comments.

The state says it will consider how to minimize damaging peoples’ health when it sprays pesticides to eradicates pests but it should instead be insisting on avoiding health threats to people altogether,” said Mayor Farid Javandel of the City of Albany, which endorsed the Earthjustice letter. “Given a choice between public health and economic impacts to agricultural interests, public health must be held paramount.”

Read the letter.

Contacts

Erin Tobin, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700

Nan Wishner, California Environmental Health Initiative, (530) 467-3069

Debbie Friedman, MOMS Advocating Sustainability, (415) 608-8317

Caroline Cox, Center for Environmental Health, (510) 655-3900, ext. 308

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.