California farmland fumigants challenged
In a lawsuit filed last week in Sacramento County Superior Court, groups from the Ventura and San Joaquin Air Basins charged that in adopting new regulations last month, the state failed to analyze reasonable alternatives or to minimize the impact of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from treating strawberries and other crops.
"Pesticides rank among the largest contributors to California's notoriously smoggy air," said Brent Newell, legal director of the San Francisco-based Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. The center, which is funded by the California Endowment and various foundations, brought the suit on behalf of the Ventura-based Community and Children's Advocates Against Pesticide Use and three Central Valley groups, El Comite Para el Bienestar de Earlimart, Committee for a Better Arvin and the Assn. of Irritated Residents.
The state Department of Pesticide Regulation's new rules "will reduce smog-causing VOC emissions from pesticides by only 12% from 1990 levels in the San Joaquin Valley, instead of the 20% regulators promised in a June 13, 1996, commitment" approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the center charged.
However, Lea Brooks, a spokeswoman for the department, said that it had set the 20% reduction in fumigant emission levels only "because a judge ordered us to pass more stringent regulations than required." She said that the 12% was "determined by the California Air Resources Board as the reduction needed ... in the San Joaquin Valley" to meet federal targets to reduce pollution in the area.
The center's first lawsuit against the fumigant standards was filed in 2004 and succeeded in setting a judicial requirement for 20% that was later overturned. But it has renewed its challenge, this time under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to smog-induced asthma and respiratory disease. The San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles Basin are among the most polluted areas in the nation.
According to Brooks, pesticide use varies from year to year based on weather, economics and other factors. In the San Joaquin Valley in 1990, 20.6 tons a day were emitted between May and October. In 2006, there were 21.4 tons in the same period, and in 2007, the latest year for which data are available, 17.2 tons.
-- Margot Roosevelt
Photo: Applying methyl bromide fumigants at a Camarillo strawberry farm. Credit: Steve Osman / Los Angeles Times