Officials from the state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) were in Santa Barbara Tuesday evening taking public comment on a handful of amendments they’ve proposed to rules governing pesticide use in California – changes some activists say fall short of what’s needed.
The hearing lasted less than 30 minutes because many of those planning to attend were either ill, displaced by the fire, or tied up in other meetings. Four women (two farmworkers and two farmworker advocates), car-pooled from Oxnard and arrived minutes after the meeting adjourned. However, according to hearing officer Jodi Clary, the public comment period remains open through 5 p.m. today, November 20, and that statements arriving via email are afforded the same significance as comments heard in person. Digital comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The changes in question involve sections of the California Code of Regulations dealing with pesticide use. One of the amendments would separate residential pesticide rules from commercial pesticide regulations. And that is the only mention of residential pesticide use in the changes, a fact not lost on Santa Barbara City Councilmember Das Williams, who has been involved in this issue since the 2006 spraying of Hope Ranch trees with the chemical dibrom. The spraying was prompted by the discovery of three Mediterranean fruit flies in the area and the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s summary decision to use the chemical, also known as Naled, drew an angry and prolonged outcry from residents, many of whom claim to have been sickened.
It was Williams who requested a hearing on the proposed changes be held in Santa Barbara, his assistant said.
Nancy Black, a concerned parent and journalist with Mercury Press International, recounted the events surrounding the 2006 spraying to hearing officer Clary and then asked that a neighbor notification rule be adopted to protect residents, their children, and pets. Such a rule already exists in New York State, she added. There was little warning of the Hope Ranch spraying and a good friend of hers vomited for days afterward, she said. In a written letter to the DPR, Williams also advocates for such a neighbor notification rule.
Jennifer Hernandez of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation praised the proposed changes in regulations governing the spraying of agricultural fields. One of the amendments would require notice of a planned pesticide application to include the name of the product to be used, its active ingredient as well as its U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registration number. Another would require notice be given when the schedule of a planned pesticide application changes. As it stands now, according to the DPR, if a pesticide is scheduled to be applied on a given day, and farmworkers are notified, they don’t have to be re-notified if the schedule changes, which means it could take place while they are present.
Celina Felipe is a farmworker in Santa Paula. She rode to the meeting with Ramona Felix of Coachella Valley, Silvia Berrones of Indio, and Suguet Lopes of Lideres Campesinas or Farm Worker Women Leaders, an advocacy group. Felipe had planned to describe her experiences of working in a field while a pesticide was being applied nearby-and waking up the next morning with a rash on her face. However, the meeting was adjourned by the time she arrived.
Lopes said she thought the new rules were good, but they didn’t go far enough. For example, she said, notification of a plan pesticide application should be written, not just a sign posted by the field. That way there is accountability, she said. She said right now, field workers are supposed to receive pesticide training every five years. But since farmworkers move around frequently, that means they often never receive it. Training should be required every season, she said.