Audience Rings On Watsonville Pesticide Notification Pilot Program – Santa Cruz Sentinel
On Thursday, more than 200 people gathered virtually to voice their opinions on an ongoing pesticide notification program in Watsonville and other locations across California.
While residents and activists have called for more information and earlier notification about pesticide use, growers have expressed concern that the program could go too far and hamper their work.
In 2021, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation announced pesticide notification programs to increase transparency around pesticide application. After a period of public consultation, the ministry selected four sites to pilot the program, including Watsonville. Results from the pilots would be used to inform a statewide pesticide reporting system.
Starting in July, residents of the Senior Village community in Watsonville, which is adjacent to Bronte Avenue and Lake Village Drive, could sign up to receive notifications about pesticide application within a one-mile radius. Notifications arrived via text or email 36 hours before application. In particular, the program sent notifications for applications of three fumigants – 1,3-dichloropropene, chloropicrin and metam potassium – used most often on berry farms, which surround much of the senior villages.
Prior to the meeting, Santa Cruz County Agriculture Commissioner Juan Hidalgo assured that existing pesticide application practices are already completely safe. Notifications are simply an additional form of transparency, he said.
“These are not warnings. They are not meant to alert or scare people,” Hidalgo told the Sentinel last week. “There are no additional protective measures that community members should feel obligated to take when they receive these notifications.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the state pesticide regulatory department asked for comment on the pilot programs. He also announced new tools to increase transparency around pesticide application, including a map that would show where pesticides are applied within a square mile radius.
The department then opened the floor for comment, and dozens of pilot participants, activists and producers chimed in.
Kathleen Kilpatrick, a resident of the Senior Village community, cited difficulty in registering, lack of precise location of pesticide application and lack of clarity about the chemicals being applied. “I would say that in terms of meeting the needs of our community, this pilot project was pretty much a failure,” Kilpatrick said.
Several commenters called for 72 hours notice for all pesticide applications. They also called for notifications to be available regardless of location and in indigenous Mexican languages such as Mixco, Zapoteco and Trique, which are spoken in many farmworker communities.
Others said pesticide drift – when wind carries pesticides from an application site to an unwanted area – was a central concern. Many who lived in farming communities told personal stories of asthma attacks, cancers and developmental disabilities, which they attributed to this phenomenon. They pointed to a UC Berkeley study, which showed correlations between exposure to pesticides in early childhood and conditions like asthma.
Several farmers argued that these illnesses could not be attributed to pesticide exposure. Some added that public disclosure of the precise location of the app threatened the privacy of farmers.
John Eiskamp, owner of JE Farms, participated in the Watsonville pilot program and said the current process was simple. However, he was concerned that a longer notification period and a notification requirement for all pesticides was a step too far.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to notify hundreds of people every time we apply a pesticide,” Eiskamp told the Sentinel on the day of the meeting. “We make decisions on the fly when it comes to pest pressure; we have to answer. We can’t wait 72 hours.
Over the next few months, the state pesticide regulatory department will review the compiled feedback to help them decide on a model for the upcoming program. The UC Davis researchers will also conduct an independent study of the pilot, which will be made public upon completion. The Watsonville pilot program is scheduled to end next month.
“We will strive to deliver the system as quickly as possible,” said Julie Henderson, director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation at the end of the meeting. The department will offer a draft notification plan in early 2023 for public comment and plans to implement a statewide system in 2024.
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is accepting public comments on the notification pilot program at [email protected] until 11:59 p.m. Monday.