Science & Technology



'It's environmental racism': Ag officials sued over farm chemicals near Latino schools

Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

For Nelly Vaquera-Boggs, the plastic tarps that cover strawberry fields in Monterey County, California, when they are being fumigated with toxic chemicals offer little comfort — especially when those fields are close to schools.

The tarps, she said, sometimes come loose in the wind. They can get holes.

And in the small farm towns of the Pajaro Valley, where schoolyards often abut agricultural land, Vaquera-Boggs worries that — tarps or no tarps — those pesticides are drifting beyond the fields and endangering children.

"Teachers have been concerned about nearby application of pesticides and fumigants for decades," said Vaquera-Boggs, president of the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers. "We live in an area that provides strawberries and a lot of the food that we consume, but we also still believe this can happen and our communities can be safe."

This month, the teachers union, which represents around 1,100 school employees, joined four environmental and social justice groups in suing Monterey County agriculture officials and state pesticide regulators, alleging they disregarded children's health by allowing several farms to use restricted pesticides in close proximity to three elementary and middle schools whose students are mostly Latino.

"It's environmental racism," said Yanely Martinez, a Greenfield City Council member and organizer for the group Safe Ag Safe Schools, one of the plaintiffs. "These are communities of people of color. These are the communities of farmworkers that are putting food on the table. The families are being silently killed."


The lawsuit, filed April 4 in Monterey County Superior Court, targets the Monterey County agricultural commissioner, Juan Hidalgo, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and its director, Julie Henderson.

The plaintiffs, which include the Center for Farmworker Families, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council and Californians for Pesticide Reform, are being represented by the environmental law nonprofit Earthjustice.

At issue are six permits — issued last summer by county agriculture officials under the purview of state regulators — that allowed the use of the fumigants chloropicrin and 1,3-dichloropropene (known as 1,3-D) in fields near Ohlone Elementary School, Hall District Elementary School and Pajaro Middle School, which also have on-site daycare programs.

The plaintiffs allege county agriculture officials are too quick to rubber-stamp pesticide permits without properly considering alternatives.


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