SALINAS, Calif. - A group of teachers from the Monterey Bay area and their supporters are calling for reforms pertaining to the use of pesticides near schools.
At noon Tuesday, the group plans to hold a press conference outside the Monterey County Superior Courthouse.
The educators say public officials haven't taken action even after a state report released earlier this year found that more than one-in-four Monterey County schoolchildren attended schools within a quarter-mile of highly hazardous pesticide application. That was the highest rate for schoolchildren in the entire state.
"California officials need to start the year off right by pledging their commitment to protecting children's health from hazardous pesticides," said Robert Chacanaca, President of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council.
The teachers, affiliated with the Safe Strawberry Monterey County Working Group and the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, are calling for a number of reforms in a resolution they will deliver to the Monterey County Agriculture Commissioner's Office.
"We want to make sure that the students who attend those schools and the people that work those school have a safe working environment," said Francisco Rodriguez, a teacher with the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.
Rodriguez said this isn't about attacking the growers; it's about working together to address the problem.
"The issue here is finding safer alternatives and committing the funds to allow for the research," said Rodriguez.
Some of the alternatives pushed by the teachers and the Monterey Bay Labor Council include establishing protective zones around schools and requiring farmers to issue a 48-hour advance notification of planned pesticide use near school campuses.
The complete list of reforms includes:
- Establish large, health-"protection zones" of at least a quarter-mile around schools where highly hazardous pesticides are applied.
- Require 72-hour advance notification of highly hazardous agricultural pesticide use near schools.
- Create an electronic, publicly accessible database tracking site-specific agricultural pesticide applications.
- Establish a comprehensive air-monitoring program and conduct annual analysis noting trends in pesticide use near schools, childcare centers and other sensitive sites.
- Seek alternatives, and offer support to farmers who wish to use least-toxic replacements for soil fumigation and organophosphate (like chlorpyrifos) pesticides.
- Phase out soil fumigants and organophosphates by 2020.
Organic farmer Javier Zamora does not use pesticides, but he said he understands why some larger farms have to use chemicals.
"We have to produce food and people who are doing it conventionally that's the way to do it," said Zamora.
Zamora says one way conventional farmers can cut down on pesticide use is to be aware about the needs of their crops.
"You don't have to go right, you don't have to go left, you can be somewhere in the middle," said Zamora.
He hopes that conventional farmers and school officials can also meet somewhere in the middle, to help keep schoolchildren safe from agricultural pesticides.