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Fighting Back: Lawsuit Challenges Pesticide Spraying near Schools, Homes, Organic Farms

The City of Berkeley, the Environmental Working Group and the Pesticide Action Network along with eight other activist groups, sued the California Department of Food and Agriculture over the agency’s approval of a statewide “pest management” plan that allows pesticide spraying on schools, organic farms and residential yards, including aerial spraying over homes in rural areas. Regulators approved the program despite receiving over 30,000 public comment letters calling for a less toxic approach that would protect the vitality and resilience of the state’s food system and the economic interests of organic farmers.

The plan, approved Dec. 24 as part of the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Environmental Impact Report, allows dangerous chemicals to be used anywhere in the state, any time into an indefinite future, without an option for affected communities to stop the spray. The state can also approve new pesticide treatments and treatment sites behind closed doors without public scrutiny or notice.

The program allows the state to use a range of 79 pesticides, many of which are carcinogenic or linked to birth defects, reproductive harm and are toxic to honey bees, butterflies, fish and birds. The list of pesticides include: chlorpyrifos, which is banned in Europe and has recently been linked to Autism. It presents hazards to workers and drinking water; the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, which is toxic to honeybees; the deadly, ozone-depleting fumigant methyl bromide, which is being phased out because of an international treaty; and chloropicrin, which causes genetic damage. The pesticide plan was passed despite the California Department of Pesticide Regulation announcement that strict new standards for chloropicrin were necessary because of the threat it poses to public health.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda Superior Court, outlines numerous ways the spray plan violates state environmental laws, including failure to notify the public of future pesticide spraying and failure to analyze the impacts of the pesticides on human and environmental health, including harm to infants and contamination of drinking water.