California supplies 80 percent of the nation’s strawberries. The state’s strawberry fields are among the most productive and fertile in the country. In Oxnard, Calif. and surrounding Ventura County, nearly 630 million pounds of strawberries satiate the strawberry appetites of nearly 78 million Americans. But strawberries are also one of the most pesticide laden crops. In fact, according to a recent article in The Nation, 66 chemicals identified as hazardous by California’s Office of Environmental Health, are used to kill pests.
These poisonous chemicals can produce a pesticide drift to the surrounding area. Oxnard and the nearby schools of Rio Mesa High School and Oxnard High are within close range of potent pesticide drift. In all, 29,000 pounds of pesticides are dumped on nearby strawberry fields.
According to The Nation:
Agricultural interests and pesticide regulators argue that just because chemicals are used near schools, it doesn’t mean they will have harmful effects. And harm is difficult to prove, because the health consequences of chronic exposure to low levels of hazardous substances can take decades to show up, if they show up at all. But scores of studies have shown that living near areas of high pesticide use is a major route of exposure, which has led health experts and even the US Environmental Protection Agency to conclude that the risks of long-term health problems for these schoolchildren are real.
The most powerful fumigant, methyl bromide is supposed to be phased out because it’s known to have a negative impact on the Earth’s ozone layer. And because it’s applied as a gas, it naturally drifts toward the surrounding community. Acute effects of exposure to methyl bromide include headaches, drowsiness, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, twitching, and seizures. Repeated levels of high exposure can cause damage to the brain, the nervous system, the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. A study at the University of California, Berkeley, showed that pregnant women living within 3 miles of moderate to high methyl bromide use had babies with lower birth weights. Even though the chemical is being phased out, for some, the damage has already been done. Especially considering that in recent history, California and Florida, are still the largest users in the country.
Again, The Nation:
When the parents filed their complaint, growers were far exceeding the moderate levels later described in the UC Berkeley study, applying anywhere from 67,000 pounds to 170,000 pounds of methyl bromide within a mile and a half of Rio Mesa High School each year. No studies of the potential consequences of these specific applications have been published, but researchers have long known that growing children are more susceptible to long-term harm from toxic agents than adults.
Drift is another consequence of heavy pesticide use. Not only does it make farm workers applying the chemicals sick, it impacts the surrounding communities, including our children, the most vulnerable members of society.
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Image of strawberry fields from Shuttershock