OAKLAND — Attorneys representing a Ventura County farmworker and environmental justice groups filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) Tuesday morning, alleging that the California state agency did not do enough to protect the public from the fumigant pesticide Telone.
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, alleges that DPR failed to follow the recommendations of scientists, and provide public review for the regulation of the chemical, also known as 1,3-dichlorpropene.
“State officials ignored science and shirked public oversight as they ensured the continued and potentially expanded use of this cancer-causing pesticide,” said Natalia Ospina, an Oxnard-based attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance representing the farmworker plaintiff. “This blatant regulatory failure continues to put rural and farmworker communities in harm’s way.”
DPR officials declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation. In a statement released Tuesday, however, the agency said the lawsuit is “without merit, and that DPR will prevail in court.”
“The way this pesticide is used in California allows growers to tackle agricultural pests while remaining protective of public health,” said DPR spokeswoman Charlotte Fadipe.
Specifically, the lawsuit first charges that DPR did not follow normal public procedures in developing new rules for Telone. This includes giving public notice and allowing the public an opportunity to comment.
The suit also alleges that DPR did not base its regulations on the advice of scientists at the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), and is in violation of a state law that requires the agencies to work together in crafting regulations, said Mark Weller, a spokesman for Californians for Pesticide Reform.
Instead, the lawsuit alleges, DPR ignored OEHHA’s concerns regarding the adequacy of the new permit conditions, or rules for regulating pesticides.
OEHHA recommended a “target concentration for mitigation” for Telone of 0.10 parts per billion, as opposed to DPR’s new relaxed 0.56 parts per billion standard, Weller said.
Plaintiff Juana Vasquez, a farmworker in Ventura County, said she is concerned for other farmworkers and her children who attend schools near agricultural fields.
“I want the agency to follow the laws and not to overstep so that the community will not get sick,” she said. “There are many people who work in the fields that are at risk of getting sick because of pesticides.”
The other plaintiffs are Californians for Pesticide Reform and the Pesticide Action Network.
Banned for agricultural use in the European Union since 2011, as well as in California between 1990 and 1995, Telone is the third most used pesticide in California by pounds and the second most used “pesticide of public health concern” near public schools.
Telone is injected into the soil to kill pests before planting. Pesticide opponents say it drifts for days after and miles away from its application.
DPR has found concentrations of Telone far above the health protective lifetime cancer risk level recommended by OEHHA at three pesticide air-monitoring school sites. These are Rio Mesa High in Oxnard, Shafter High in Kern County, and Ohlone Elementary School in North Monterey County.
“DPR came last October to tell us the ‘good news’ that they measured cancer-causing Telone at .12 parts per billion in the air our schoolchildren breathe,” Ohlone Elementary teacher Melissa Dennis said. “How is that ‘good’? OEHHA scientists say we should be concerned at .1 parts per billion. As teachers and parents, we’re worried and angry.”
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