Thousands Of Schools Would be Close To Toxic Spray Zones

There are 5,532 American schools within 200 feet of farm fields that may soon be blanketed with massive amounts of a toxic defoliant linked to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and reproductive and immune system problems.

That’s the finding of a new EWG analysis that shows that hundreds of thousands of children across the country will be at risk of increased exposure to the harmful chemical compound 2,4-D if the Environmental Protection Agency approves a new weed killer mixture called “Enlist DuoTM” created by Dow AgroSciences (a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co.).

That apparently doesn’t worry the EPA. But if these rural schools were full of plants rather than children, the agency would be concerned.

When it comes to dousing crops with noxious chemicals, EPA focused on buffer zones for plants, not people – according to the agency’s recent risk analysis of Enlist Duo, which is a combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate. In its assessment, the EPA called for a 200-foot buffer zone to protect non-weed plants from the product but glosses over the health risks to children. (Read more about EWG’s analysis of how EPA got it wrong here).

The agency is in the process of deciding whether to approve Enlist Duo for use on genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans designed to withstand blasts of 2,4-D and glyphosate. If the EPA gives the weed killer combo a thumbs-up, the amount of 2,4-D sprayed in the United States by 2020 would increase three-to-seven fold the amounts used today, according to US Department of Agriculture estimates.

EWG’s map (below) shows that 17,885 schools are situated within 1,000 feet of a corn or soybean field that could potentially be sprayed with 2.4-D. And nearly a third of them are much closer – within 200 feet! Forty-seven states have at least one school within 1,000 feet of a field growing corn or soybeans – and 41 states have at least one school within 200 feet.

In its assessment, the EPA doesn’t mention schools. But it does take care to assess the risk to plants other than the weeds Enlist Duo is designed to kill (so-called “non-target plants”) if the mixture were to drift off the fields where it’s sprayed. If you’re a plant, the EPA thinks you might be in danger even at a distance of 1,000 feet. But Dow scientists promised EPA that Enlist Duo won’t drift that far. EPA took them at their word and concluded that if you’re a plant, you can be safe as close as 202 feet from a sprayed field – assuming the farmer sprays Dow's proprietary Enlist Duo formulation and not any other 2,4-D formulation (and follows all the instructions on the label). 

Even if 2,4-D doesn’t travel more than 200 feet from a field where it’s used, Enlist Duo would put thousands of rural school children at risk. That’s not a trivial matter. Human exposure to 2,4-D has been linked to a number of health risks, including thyroid, immune system and reproductive problems, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.

EPA’s assessment also doesn’t focus on the possibility of people inhaling 2,4-D, even though that’s one of the primary routes of exposure. Children in schools and daycare facilities closest to fields would be at increased risk whenever spraying takes place – both when school is in session and when children use the playgrounds or ball fields during summer break.

The 10 states with the most schools within 200 feet of cropland growing corn and soybeans are:

Ranking State Schools
1 Michigan


2 Missouri


3 South Dakota


4 Pennsylvania


5 Wisconsin


6 Nebraska


7 Iowa


8 Minnesota


9 Kansas


10 North Carolina


Note: The draft label for Enlist Duo includes proposed registration for Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Dow AgroSciences says it is working with the EPA to expand the list of states.

Click the map to see the locations of schools that are within 1,000 feet of soy and cornfields.

See map


EWG’s approximated school locations using the ESRI ( landmark shape file for schools, which is derived from the USGS Geographic Names Information System – Schools layer. These are considered the best available data sources for school locations. The data were also filtered to the best of EWG’s knowledge to present only locations whose attributed name reflects an operating K-12 school but may inadvertently include locations of free-standing school administrative offices or buildings that formerly housed schools but are now in other uses as a result of school consolidation or other reasons.
School buffer zones of 200 feet and 1,000 feet were created for this analysis using the school’s point location in the ESRI data, not the physical footprint of the school grounds. As a result, EWG’s analysis may over- or under-estimate the exact distance of school grounds to the boundaries of nearby corn or soybean fields.School buffers were evaluated for proximity to the boundaries of corn and soybean fields as delineated by the USDA 2013 cropland data layer (30-meter resolution).
EWG acknowledges that spatial analyses of this kind may include some level of error (such as incorrect or outdated school or crop field locations or boundaries) even when standard, best available location data sources are utilized. EWG welcomes information to revise and correct any locational errors in the underlying data that may affect this analysis.

***The estimated total number of schools cited in the original version of the analysis was updated on Aug. 15, 2014 to 17,885 schools within 1,000 ft. and 5,532 schools within 200 ft.

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