Lawsuit Challenges California Plan Allowing Pesticide Spraying on Schools, Homes, Organic Farms

Pesticide-centered Program Approved Despite 30,000 Opposition Letters

The original version of the following press release was published by the Center for Biological Diversity on Jan. 22, 2015.

Additional contacts:
Debbie Friedman, MOMS Advocating Sustainability, (415) 608-8317, [email protected]
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466, [email protected]
Nan Wishner, California Environmental Health Initiative, (510) 524-5185, [email protected]
Jason Flanders, Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group, (916) 202-3018, [email protected]

San Francisco, Calif. — Eleven groups and the city of Berkeley sued the California Department of Food and Agriculture today over the agency’s approval of a statewide “pest management” plan that allows pesticide spraying on schools, organic farms and residential yards, including aerial spraying over homes in rural areas. California approved the program despite tens of thousands of public comment letters calling for a less toxic approach that would protect the vitality and resilience of the state’s food system and the economic interests of organic farmers.

“The state offers no evidence to support its conclusion that this pesticide-centered program will have no effect on our health,” said Debbie Friedman, cofounder of MOMS Advocating Sustainability. “As a parent, I am particularly disturbed that health risks of pesticide residues for children aged two and under are dismissed based on the absurd reasoning that infants spend most of their time indoors.”

The approved program allows the state to use, without any additional environmental review, 79 pesticides that cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm and are also highly toxic to bees, butterflies, fish and birds. Pesticides used in the program include chlorpyrifos, which is banned in Europe and a recent U.S. EPA study found poses hazards to workers and drinking water; the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, which is highly toxic to bees; the deadly, ozone-depleting fumigant methyl bromide, which is being phased out because of an international treaty; and chloropicrin, which causes genetic damage. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation last week announced strict new standards for chloropicrin because of the threat is poses to public health.

“This program puts people and some of California’s most imperiled species, like salmon and tiger salamanders, directly in harm’s way from dangerous pesticides,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s frightening that the state would spray these toxic chemicals throughout California without fully analyzing their effects or telling the public of the consequences.”

The plan, approved Dec. 24 as part of the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Environmental Impact Report, allows these dangerous chemicals to be used anywhere in the state, any time into the indefinite future, without an option for affected communities to stop the spray. The state can also approve new pesticide treatments and treatment sites behind closed doors without public scrutiny or notice.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda Superior Court, outlines numerous ways the spray plan violates state environmental laws, including failure to notify the public of future pesticide spraying and failure to analyze the impacts of the pesticides on human and environmental health, including harm to infants and contamination of drinking water.

“What will it take to make the state accountable to the tens of thousands of individuals who wrote comment letters asking the state to adopt a modern, sustainable pest management approach that would ensure that food and nursery plants are not contaminated by pesticides?” said Nan Wishner, board member of the California Environmental Health Initiative. 

“Municipal drinking water sources that are already contaminated with pesticides would be further degraded by this pesticide program. How can the department realistically claim that pesticides sprayed under this program will never reach any of those bodies of water?” said attorney Jason Flanders of ATA Law Group.

The suit was brought by Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Working Group, California Environmental Health Initiative, MOMS Advocating Sustainability, Center for Food Safety, City of Berkeley, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, Beyond Pesticides, Californians for Pesticide Reform, and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment. The plaintiffs are represented by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter, and Hampton, along with ATA Law Group.

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