Santa Cruz County

Ag commissioner explains pesticide use near Watsonville school

KION responds to concerns about pesticides near schools

WATSONVILLE, Calif. - UPDATE 9/12/2016 6:15 PM: Community members are claiming a small victory after they say their repeated calls to reschedule a pesticide application near a Watsonville school were successful.

On Friday, KION received emails stating a Watsonville grower planned to apply pesticides less than a thousand feet from Amesti Elementary School on both Saturday and Monday morning. They were concerned since students would be back at school just hours later on Monday morning.

After the outcry, the Santa Cruz Agricultural Commissioner and the grower rescheduled the application to Sunday morning.

"The biggest concern we received was that the application was going to be on a weekday and it was going to be in the morning, just before the times students began to arrive at the school and this actual application of concern was about 900 feet away from the school," Juan Hidalgo, Santa Cruz agricultural commissioner, said.

Getting approval for pesticide application is not an easy process. According to Hidalgo, growers must first get a permit from his office that includes what materials they plan to use. Once the permit gets approved, growers have to submit specific plans that outline the location with a map. The ag commission then makes sure all laws and regulations are followed. When the grower is finally ready to perform the fumigation, they must send a notice of intent to the commission, so the commission can evaluate it one more time.

"We have inspectors that go out to the field and monitor to find growers doing applications and then we do inspections to make sure they're in compliance with laws and regulations," Hidalgo said.

The company in this instance, Plant Sciences, filed the proper paperwork to conduct field fumigation, a procedure during which a tractor injects pesticides about a foot into the soil, while simultaneously covering it with heavy-duty plastic wrap. The ground is covered for more than a week. The procedure is usually done to prepare soil for fall crops.

"Most of them try to do their applications on the weekends too whenever possible but timing of what is happening and timing of the field, harvesting and other growers plays a big part into some of the applications," said Hidalgo.

The school was notified of the applications last week but some say that was not soon enough.

"This situation has really demonstrated the inadequacies of current pesticide regulation around schools because if parents and teachers hadn't come together and talked to the county agricultural commissioner, there would have been an application at 5 a.m.," Lucia Calderon with Californians for Pesticide Reform said.

The watchdog group is demanding a 1-mile buffer zone around schools 24/7 with comprehensive bilingual notifications for all of the community.

In the meantime, Plant Sciences said while they continue to explore different methods to control pests, this is the one that's best suited for right now.

Another pesticide application is expected in that area this weekend.


Parents of students at Amesti Elementary School in Watsonville say they're worried about pesticide that was applied within 900 feet of the school Sunday.

Juan Hidalgo, the Santa Cruz County Ag Commissioner, tells KION's Mariana Hicks that although notification of pesticide use is not mandatory, his office notified the school last week and worked with the grower to schedule the pesticide application for Sunday, when students would not be at school.

Hidalgo said that instead of spraying the fumigant, a tractor injected pesticides about a foot into the ground. The ground will be covered for nine days.

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