Pesticides are in our produce, our household cleaners, and our drinking water. Although California has the largest number of organic farms in the country, there still plenty of conventional farms pumping toxic chemicals into our daily lives. Despite the state's vast agricultural production, very few studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of pesticide exposure on the human body.
As a leader in the health industry, the California Wellness Foundation (CWF) is funding a research project to dig deeper into the connection between pesticides and neurobehavioral performance. The foundation recently announced a $100,000 grant to California Lutheran University for this very purpose. (Read California Wellness Foundation: Bay Area Grants).
This CWF grant will pay a team of faculty members and students to interview 30 to 50 Oxnard residents, testing their memory, concentration, motor speed, and visual-spatial skills. The town of Oxnard was chosen as the test area because its filled with plenty of farm workers and residents who live within a half mile of farms that use pesticides on crops. According to the University, researchers will use the results of this study to develop a model for environmental justice for low-income and under-educated residents as part of another project that CWF already funded.
Also, Oxford has had a long and checkered history with pesticide exposure for more than a decade. In 1999, the mother of an elementary school student sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) based on local records that showed that Latinos were being exposed to a disproportionate amount of pesticides. Very little happened for the next ten years, that is until the EPA issued an unprecedented preliminary finding of discrimination against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation in 2011.
On August 23, 2013, plaintiff Marcia Garcia filed a related lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco. Marcia's son, David, suffered severe levels of methyl bromide exposure while attending Oxnard's Rio Mesa High School, where the exposure levels were off the charts. Although the use of soil fumigants has changed since David was in school, overall usage hasn't declined.
It will be interesting to see if research studies like this one have any effect on the pending lawsuit and the embarrassing environmental conditions in California. Pesticide exposure poisons over 20,000 people each year, and these illnesses and deaths are preventable. “Simple revisions to the Worker Protection Standard should require more frequent and thorough safety training on farms, ensure that workers receive information about the specific pesticides used in their work, and require medical monitoring of workers handling toxic pesticides,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. “These basic protections are hardly unwarranted for the men and women who put food on our tables every day.”