Heavy Methyl Bromide Use Near California Schools
In 1993, fourteen people were made ill from routine application of methyl bromide in strawberry fields adjacent to subdivisions in Castroville, California. In 1995, residents of this same subdivision were poisoned again, after methyl bromide was applied to the same fields. In both cases, injury occurred even though all required actions to reduce human exposure to methyl bromide were employed. Since 1985 more than 1,600 Californians have been poisoned and hundreds more evacuated from schools and homes due to methyl bromide exposure (Brodberg et al. 1992). Methyl bromide is an extremely toxic pesticide, heavily used in the production of strawberries, flowers, and other high value specialty crops. It is applied as a gas, and naturally drifts into the surrounding community.
Our analysis of pesticide use data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation shows that at least 826 elementary schools and day care centers were within 2 miles of 10,000 pounds or more methyl bromide use in 1992. Ten schools were within 2 miles of 100,000 pounds of methyl bromide use in that same year, and 321 elementary schools and day care centers were within 1.5 miles of 10,000 pounds of methyl bromide use in 1992. Two schools in Union City, in Alameda county, were within 1 mile of more than 40,000 pounds of methyl bromide use, followed by three schools in Ventura county within 1 mile of between 18,000 and 41,000 pounds of use.
In 1992, Ventura and Monterey counties had 131 and 112 elementary schools and day care centers respectively within 2 miles of 10,000 pounds or more methyl bromide use. Stanislaus county had 96 and Alameda county had 83. The top five (and 10 of the top 15) vulnerable schools in the state were located in Oxnard, in Ventura County. These top five elementary schools were within 2 miles of between 140,000 and 250,000 pounds of methyl bromide use in 1992.
Using one ton as an indicator of heavy use, Orange County had the most schools and day care facilities close to heavy methyl bromide use, with 83 elementary schools (with enrollment of 45,000), plus 212 day care centers within 2 miles of 2,000 pounds or more of methyl bromide applications.
This close proximity to major applications of methyl bromide raises serious questions about the safety and exposure of infants and children to this highly toxic pesticide.