The state Department of Pesticide Regulation on Thursday issued a revised proposed regulation on spraying pesticides near schools, changing an earlier version to provide farmers more leeway in reporting the spraying to school officials.
Despite that change, the proposed regulation remained largely the same as that issued in September and fundamentally bans pesticide applications within a quarter-mile of schools and day care centers on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The rule has been heavily lobbied on both sides. Agricultural interests complained that it was regulatory overreach that wasn’t backed up by available science. Environmental advocacy groups argued it did not do enough to protect children and did not contain sufficient provisions for enforcement. About 500 comment letters have been filed on the plan.
Under the original proposal, farmers would have been required to notify school officials and the county agricultural commissioners of pesticide sprays made within that quarter-mile area 48 hours before they occur.
The revised rule would only require them to provide an annual notification of pesticides that they expect will be applied near the school zones. The grower must describe the pesticides likely to be used, their names and active ingredients as well as a map showing the acreage and its proximity to the school.
Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner Tony Linegar had said the original proposal would have forced him to hire another staff member to handle the enforcement burden placed on his 32-member office. “Eliminating 48-hour notice probably takes away 80 percent of the workload for us,” Linegar said, adding that the change frees up his office to focus on higher-priority regulation.
Linegar did caution, however, that most local farmers are already working with their local school officials to let them know when they are spraying and doing it on non-school hours.
Still, the issue resonates locally. In 2013, parents in Sebastopol complained when vintner Paul Hobbs turned an apple orchard into a vineyard, charging that dust from the uprooted trees contained toxic chemicals that could harm students at nearby schools.
The revised proposed regulation also changed the date the rule will take effect from Oct. 1 of this year to Jan. 1, 2018. The definition of “school site” was revised so it would not apply to school buses or vehicles not on school property, though it does allow agricultural commissioners to include adjacent parks in the affected zone if they are used regularly by schools on the weekdays.
A 15-day comment period now begins, after which the agency will issue a final regulation.
“We believe this regulation will provide Californians with probably the most robust protection in the nation for schoolchildren when agricultural pesticides are applied near their school,” said Brian Leahy, director of DPR, in a statement. “It simply makes it more difficult to create an unacceptable pesticide hazard at a school site.”
John Aguirre, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, said Thursday the rule-making process was still flawed, given that the affected pesticides have already been labeled safe to use by both state and federal agencies if instructions are followed properly.
“We do have confidence in the U.S. EPA and the California agencies,” he said.
But at least one environmental group contends that there should be a blanket 1-mile ban around schools, given that children are more sensitive to the toxic effects of pesticides than adults, and drift can linger much longer after it is sprayed.