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Officials: no detectable pesticides at Ohlone Elementary

Posted: Thursday, Sep 26th, 2013

Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian The pesticide monitoring station at Ohlone Elementary School

WATSONVILLE — A monitoring device installed near Ohlone Elementary School more than a year ago to look for dangerous pesticides found levels far below those thought to be a danger to humans, a report released in July by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation shows.

The station began monitoring for six pesticides including in January 2012, part of a six-station network across the state that includes Santa Maria, Camarillo, Ripon, Salinas and Shafter.

The communities were selected from a list of 226, and were chosen based on pesticide use and demographics, including the percentage of children, elderly and farm workers.

In particular, the stations are checking the air for traces of nearly three-dozen pesticides, most notably methyl bromide and methyl iodide, fumigants commonly used by strawberry growers to treat soil for pests.

Over the course of a year, the highest recorded level at Ohlone was 1.5 parts per billion, recorded on Oct. 12, 2012. According to the DPR, the regulatory target is 210 parts per billion.

“This is reassuring news for residents,” said DPR Director Brian Leahy. “Our monitoring in 2012 shows that none of the pesticides exceeded their screening levels, indicating a low health risk to the people in these communities. These findings indicate that the state and county restrictions are keeping air concentrations below the health protective targets set by DPR.”

Already, Pajaro Valley Unified School District closely monitors applications of pesticides and works with local government and with the Santa Cruz County Agricultural Commissioner to make sure all applicable rules and regulations are followed.

According to Pajaro Valley Unified School District Chief Business Officer Brett McFadden, farmers who own land near schools can only use pesticides on weekends or when school is otherwise not in session. Even then, the Santa Cruz Agricultural Commission notifies the district when fumigation takes place.

McFadden said the results came as welcome news in Watsonville, where many of the schools are located near agricultural fields.

“We’re very happy with the results, not only for Ohlone but for Pajaro Valley,” McFadden said.

Despite the findings, the McFadden said the district will continue to follow pesticide use near its schools.

“It doesn’t mean that the issue is over,” he said. “There is always something you can do to look out for the safety of your students and staff.”

Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers President Francisco Rodriguez also expressed relief about the results, but pointed out that activism throughout the years has resulted in improvements such as buffer zones around schools and have helped reduce the exposure levels.

The monitoring stations are the result of a 1999 lawsuit filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by six families from Pajaro Valley, Ventura County and Salinas, who said that the use of the controversial pesticide was inordinately higher near schools populated by Latino students, which they said violates title 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The complaint further alleged that the DPR failed to inform families of the fact that pesticide was being used near schools.

Methyl bromide is slated to be phased out by 2015 due to its ozone-depleting effects. It is also thought to have negative effects on the central nervous system.

Methyl Iodide, designed to be used as a fungicide, pesticide and herbicide on strawberry crops, was designed to replace methyl bromide. It was pulled from the U.S. market in 2012 after it was found to be carcinogenic.

The monitoring at Ohlone will continue through December.

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