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Every Breath You Take

Airborne Pesticides in the San Joaquin Valley

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Every Breath You Take

Airborne Pesticides in the San Joaquin Valley

View and Download the report here: Every Breathe You Take

Executive Summary

Independent scientific monitoring by the Environmental Working Group found dangerously high concentrations of a partially banned pesticide in the air San Joaquin Valley residents breathe. One-third of ambient air monitoring samples detected the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the federal government has recently banned for home use as unsafe for children but remains the most widely used agricultural insecticide in California.

  • No one would want their children playing where our pumps were running. In several locations, chlorpyrifos was detected at levels that could easily expose infants to much higher doses than the federal government says are safe to breathe.
  • EWG air monitoring also detected two other pesticides classified by the federal and state governments as hazardous air pollutants – chemicals the U.S. EPA says are likely to cause increased death rates or serious illness.
  • Pesticide use in Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties puts more than 15 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air each year – an amount equal to about one-third of the air pollution from most other area industrial sources combined. This amount includes not only pesticide drift, but post-application emissions of other toxic ingredients in pesticide products.
  • In those counties more than 22,000 children – a population known to be more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals that cause damage to the brain, the nervous system and to development – attend school near sites of heavy use of toxic pesticides
  • Our detections were not the result of unusually high pesticide use on the day of sampling. In 1998 there were more than 18,400 applications of pesticides within three miles of our test sites, and applications were made on 227 different days that year. In 1996, state air quality scientists detected chlorpyrifos in 74 percent of samples near orange groves in Tulare County.
  • The more than 1 million San Joaquin Valley residents who live, work and go to school in close proximity to heavy use of toxic pesticides should not have to worry if the amount of poison allowed in their air is considered “safe.” They should have the right not to be exposed to poison at all.
  • Agriculture is California’s largest industry, and pesticide drift is air pollution as surely as the emissions from a chemical plant. The state should regulate it as strictly as other forms of industrial air pollution. Vigorous enforcement of laws against pesticide drift must apply not only to largescale drift incidents, but everyday drift from routine use of chemical pesticides.
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