Kern county leads the state with use of toxic pesticide, but plans to regulate it

    A crop duster sprays pesticide in California in a file photo from the USDA via MGN Online. (Photo by: Charles O'Rear)

    ARVIN, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Byanka Santoyo brings her 3-year-old daughter to the Sunset Child Development Center, a day care near Arvin that is specifically for farm working families. But she doesn't let her play on the playground much, afraid too much time outdoors may be harmful for her health.

    That's because the day care is located just across the street from grape vineyards that are sprayed with a pesticide called chlorpyrifos, a toxic chemical.

    "We've known that chlorpyrifos, the main ingredient in pesticides, has been harmful to human health for many, many years," Valerie Gorospe, communications coordinator for the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment, said.

    On Thursday, the New York Times published an in-depth report on the health hazards of chlorpyrifos on Kern County farm workers.

    "After nearly a decade of research and science showing how dangerous it is to human health, it was well on its way to being banned," Gorospe said.

    After removing the pesticide from household use nearly two decades ago, environmental groups petitioned for it to be removed from agricultural use, too. The Obama administration agreed, and the Environmental Protection Agency ordered it banned from use in the fields by March 2017.

    Just two months in to the Trump presidency, newly appointed EPA director Scott Pruitt reversed that decision.

    "It was a huge blow to Kern County, the San Joaquin Valley, all of our ag workers, all of our children," Gorospe said.

    Santoyo, who works with Gorospe as a community organizer, has been working with the county Agricultural Commissioner to try to ban chlorpyrifos county wide, but fears big ag's financial interests won't allow it.

    Starting in the new year, Kern County will have stricter regulations on how chloryprifos is used, and won't allow it to be sprayed aerially.

    Gorospe says it's not enough.

    "Until we can use other alternatives for growing our crops, we're still going to continue using big pesticides that are harmful to human health," Gorospe said. "So, we've got to get serious about what other alternatives there are in growing our crops."

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