California Court Blocks State Agriculture Department From Spraying Pesticides

In a win for environmental and public health advocates, a California court has halted a program that allows the state agriculture department to spray pesticides on public and private property without proper notice to the public about its intention to spray or adequate study of the possible adverse impacts of the chemicals used.

The court order, which came late last week, was in response to a lawsuit brought by 11 environmental and public health groups — including the Environmental Working Group, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Biological Diversity, and Moms Advocating Sustainability — and the city of Berkeley.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program, which is supposed to control outbreaks of invasive plant pests, gave the agency the license to use 79 pesticides — including some known to cause cancer and birth defects and to be highly toxic to bees, butterflies, and other wildlife — anywhere it the state. The “anywhere” included school grounds, public parks, near organic farms, and even in private backyards.

The agriculture department uses the program to control pests such as the Asian citrus psyllid, which can infect citrus trees with a bacteria that has been wreaking havoc on citrus farms in Florida. Since the program was adopted in 2014, the agency has carried out more than 1,000 treatments across the state, sparying pesticides such as chlorpyrifos, neonicotinoids, methyl bromide, and chloropicrin, which are known for their toxicity.

The lawsuit sought to halt the program citing “far-reaching flaws in the state’s analysis of the environmental harm” caused by the use of these pesticides, and the agriculture department’s decades-long history of avoiding talking about the public health and environmental risks of the pesticides it uses by repeatedly granting itself emergency exemptions from environmental laws.

Environmental and public health activists have…

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