Health Watchdog Sues Dow for Pesticide Air Pollution

Oakland, CA-The national health watchdog Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has filed a lawsuit against Dow Chemical to address cancer risks posed by its fumigant pesticide Telone.  Telone (a trade name for the chemical 1,3-Dichloropropene or 1,3-D) is a known carcinogen that pollutes dozens of rural areas throughout California; it is the third most heavily used pesticide in the state, and has been found to linger in the air for days after application.

“Telone is a serious health threat to families who deserve environmental justice now,” said Michael Green, CEO of CEH. “For decades, Dow and state regulators have put profits ahead of our health. It is long past time for California to protect children and families from Dow’s dangerous chemical.” The CEH lawsuit aims to limit the use of Telone in and require Dow to warn area residents of Shafter, California before applying the pesticide.

Just last week, parents and staff at Amesti Elementary School in Watsonville raised concerns after they learned that Telone and other fumigants were scheduled to be applied on a Monday morning just before school began, at a farm less than 1,000 feet from the school. A 2014 report by the California Department of Health found that Latino schoolchildren are 91% more likely than white students to be exposed to the highest levels of hazardous pesticides.

“Our communities deserve protection from Dow’s toxic pollution, but for years the state has ignored the health threat their fumigant poses to our children and families,” said Valerie Gorospe, a Community Organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, an environmental justice organization working in support of communities of color that bear the brunt of environmental hazards. “We support the CEH lawsuit and we demand an end to the toxic uses of these dangerous fumigant pesticides.”

Telone was banned in California in 1990 after studies showed air pollution from the chemical lingered near farms. But the toxic fumigant was allowed back on the market, with conditions, following lobbying by Dow. In 2002, the state DPR loosened the restrictions on Telone over the objections of its own scientists who stated, “Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) scientists do not agree and suggest that [the new rules] may actually increase cancer risk.” According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, more than 1 million people live in 100 California communities where Telone use surpasses the original safety limits.

In 1999, a group of Latino parents in California filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. EPA, urging the agency to protect them from discrimination due to the health risks posed by the use of a fumigant pesticide near their schools and homes. After a nearly 12-year investigation, the case became EPA’s first-ever finding of racial discrimination, yet the agency failed to adopt any of the protections the residents demanded. Instead, EPA secretly negotiated and settled the case with California DPR, with no input from the complainants or the affected community.

California regulators monitor air quality in just six agricultural counties. They have identified the top twenty towns for Telone use, yet none of the air monitoring occurs in any of these areas. Even with this meager state monitoring, their data repeatedly show high levels of 1,3-D, including near schools.  The CEH suit is based on air monitoring data taken at Shafter High School in Kern County, which show high levels of the chemical, in violation of California’s Proposition 65 law.

Alarmingly, instead of addressing the cancer threat from Telone, state pesticide regulators have recently proposed to allow users to increase the amount of Telone sprayed on agricultural fields in California.  DPR’s proposal is being developed despite the concerns of state scientists from the Office of Health Hazard Analysis (OEHHA), who objected to DPR’s use of studies and assumptions that they say could underestimate the cancer risk from Telone.

Notes: For more on the recent fumigation near Amesti Elementary School, see https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2016/09/12/18791091.php

Background on the regulatory history of Telone from Reveal/The Center for Investigative Reporting is at https://www.revealnews.org/article/californias-strawberry-industry-is-hooked-on-dangerous-pesticides/

For more on the environmental justice case and EPA’s failure to protect Latino families from fumigants, see http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/Right%20without%20a%20Remedy%20FINAL_optimized.pdf

For more on the 2014 CDPH report on pesticides near schools, see http://www.panna.org/press-release/groundbreaking-report-hazardous-pesticides-used-near-more-100000-children-california

For more on state monitoring, see http://www.thecalifornian.com/story/news/2014/10/08/cancer-concerns-raised-pesticides-found-air/16864413/

To see the OEHHA critique of DPR’s proposed new rule for Telone, see http://oehha.ca.gov/media/downloads/pesticides/report/13-dichloropropenercd-eadmemooehha2015_1.pdf

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