Air quality results are in from several California monitoring sites and the findings show that pesticides in the air do not pose a significant health risk to the communities under study.

Over the past several years the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), in tandem with the California Air Resources Board, has been hard at work identifying air pollution sources and trying to determine what percentage of the pollution is the result of pesticide usage.  Perhaps more importantly, if pesticides are in the air do they pose a health risk to those living in nearby communities?

Well, DPR officials recently announced that the findings were finally in and that the air monitoring of nearly three dozen pesticides in California during the past year show residues well below levels established to protect human health and the environment.

“We’re pleased the results indicate a low health risk to residents of the communities where monitoring stations are located,” reported DPR Director Brian Leahy. “This information is essential to help us evaluate whether our restrictions on pesticide applications are protective over the long term.”

Once again, Central Valley residents can rest assured that pesticides do not threaten human health in their neighborhoods. Only one of the chemicals exceeded its screening level for exposure periods of one year or less. That chemical, acrolein, is sometimes used as a pesticide, but the residues detected were most likely from motor vehicle and industrial emissions, the state researchers determined. The acrolein detections are consistent with the Air Resources Board’s monitoring throughout the state.

(For more, see: California pesticide levels show low health risks)

It is reassuring that state agencies have combined their resources to define the elements in air pollution.  However, this latest study is just one of several over the years that have monitored air quality in the Central Valley and elsewhere across the state.

When I was hired by WPHA in 2006 our organization was concerned about a similar air monitoring pilot project in Parlier in Fresno County. At that time, environmentalists were clamoring for testing in Parlier because they were certain pesticides played a major role in health problems in the Central Valley community. 

As communications director, I closely monitored their monitoring because an unfavorable study would obviously tarnish the crop protection industry and California agriculture in general.  And, needless to say, the environmentalists were immersed in preparing harsh news releases because they were convinced the outcome would be quite negative.  They were wrong.

When the DPR testing results were announced it became known – quite to the chagrin of doomsday activists – that the vast majority of pesticide levels were well below those expected to cause damaging health effects. No findings called for immediate regulatory action.

The more recent mid-July test findings culled from the towns of Shafter in Kern County, Salinas in Monterey County and Ripon in San Joaquin County, produced similar results. The three communities were selected in early 2011 from a list of 226 neighborhoods based on pesticide use on surrounding farmland and demographics, including the percentage of children, the elderly and farm workers.  The monitoring results also included Santa Maria and Oxnard, cities known for high applications of fumigant pesticides, mainly used on strawberry crops.

California a sterling example

Thirty-four pesticides and five pesticide breakdown products were monitored, including six fumigants and 11 organophosphates. Twenty-nine of the chemicals were detected in at least one sample and 10 were not detected.  DPR selected these pesticides based on the amount of use and their potential health risks.

“Detecting pesticides in communities surrounded by farmland is not a surprise,” Leahy stressed. “California is the only state that monitors air as part of its continuous reevaluation of pesticides to ensure the protection of workers, public health and the environment.”

Yet again, this latest testing is another clear reminder that California serves as a sterling example for the rest of the nation when it comes to food security, health safety and environmental protections – all compliments of a phalanx of state scientific experts who steadfastly strive to employ proper regulatory practices, and an agricultural industry with similar goals.  Considering that these regulatory agencies and the people who work in them are frequently the targets of criticism from environmental activists, the truth is that California owes them a great amount of appreciation and gratitude.

(For more, see: California clamps down on pesticide applications)

The air monitoring network, the first of its kind in the nation which began with monitoring projects in Parlier in 2006 and Lompoc in 2000, was created to expand DPR’s knowledge of the potential health risks of long-term exposures to pesticides. State law requires DPR to continuously evaluate pesticides after they are in use. As part of this process, DPR – one of five departments and boards within the California Environmental Protection Agency – conducts field studies to monitor exposure to workers and to measure how pesticides move and break down in air, soil and water.  DPR then uses this information to decide if further regulatory measures are necessary.

These latest results showing that human health in Shafter, Salinas, Ripon, Santa Maria and Oxnard is not in danger from high levels of crop protection products, is good news indeed.  It reaffirms industry’s objectives in being good stewards of the environment and protecting California consumers from unsafe practices.  While it temporarily may remove some of the wind from the sails of rabid activist groups, there will always be another “crusade” for them to turn their attention to. For the rest of us, we can take comfort in the fact that agriculture is safe, alive and thriving in the Golden State.