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Report Finds California Pesticide Drift Routinely Exceeds Acceptable Levels
(Beyond Pesticides, May 13, 2003)
Airborne pesticide levels in California routinely exceed acceptable health standards miles from where they are used, according to a study released by several environmental groups entitled Secondhand Pesticides: Airborne Pesticide Drift in California. More than 90 percent of pesticides used in California are prone to drift, and 34 percent of the 188 million pounds of pesticides used in 2000 in the state are considered highly toxic to humans, the study said.

State officials acknowledge that pesticide drift is a concern but say the report exaggerates the problem. The report's findings come from an analysis of state air-monitoring data, as compared to acceptable pesticide exposure levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.

"Pesticides in air are often invisible and odorless, but like second-hand cigarette smoke, inhaling even small amounts over time can lead to serious health problems, especially for children," said Susan Kegley of the Pesticide Action Network and one of the study's authors.

Glenn Brank, a spokesman for the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, accused the study's authors of misinterpreting state data and issuing the report for shock effect. Brank said much of the study's data was collected at air-monitoring sites only feet from spray areas and did not take into account buffer zones intended to protect the public.

However, the department did concede that, "better drift regulations need to be expedited at the federal level." Brank added, "Until EPA adopts a consistent, national standard for drift prevention measures, it's difficult for California and other states to make their own regulatory moves."

EPA spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said the agency recognizes the potential dangers of pesticide drift and is constantly working on new guidelines. "EPA regulates pesticides on a national basis, and we provide the states with flexibility to address specific issues such as drift," Fasano said. She said pesticide drift is an issue for California, more than any other state, because of the proximity of urban areas to farms.

The study found that unhealthy levels of four of the six most commonly used pesticides in California are found in air not only along the perimeters but miles away from the application sites.

Kegley said concentrations of the pesticides chlorpyrifos and diazinon - banned from residential use by the EPA - were found near spray areas in concentrations that exceeded acceptable health levels by 184 and 39 times, respectively. The year-long study suggests that officials should phase out the use of all toxic pesticides.

"We know that asthma rates are double that of the rest of state in Fresno and the Central Valley where pesticide use is high. And we know there is a strong correlation between airborne pesticides and leukemia, miscarriages, sterility, and the list goes on," Kegley said.