Nineteen Yolo County public schools, including three in Davis, are located near areas where pesticides of public health concern are applied, according to a recent study by the California Environmental Health Tracking Program.
Montgomery and Fairfield elementary schools and Harper Junior High School were among the schools listed by researchers in an April report as being within a quarter-mile of any amount of pesticide use in 2010.
While members of the community might find the new information startling, UC Davis professor Ron Tjeerdema told The Enterprise that the situation might not be as serious as some would think.
Tjeerdema, who chairs the university’s department of environmental toxicology, said that as long as the pesticides are applied properly, they should not pose a serious threat to people in the surrounding areas.
“If they’re used appropriately and within the guidelines that have been put in place, I wouldn’t be too concerned,” he said.
According to the study, Yolo County requires that growers maintain a buffer between their land and any schools when applying restricted pesticides. Other counties go further, mandating that growers notify schools in advance of any pesticide use, among other stipulations.
The study examined 2,511 public schools in the 15 counties with the highest overall pesticide use in 2010 — including Yolo — and found that the majority of schools (64.2 percent) did not have any pesticides used near them. However, the percentages for individual counties varied widely.
According to the study, Tulare County had the highest percentage (63.4 percent) of schools with any pesticide nearby, followed by Merced (61.2 percent) and Stanislaus (51.4 percent). Yolo County, on the other hand, fared well compared to many of the other counties studied, as only 29.7 percent of its schools had pesticides near their campuses.
But for parents, school staff and other community members, the idea of any school operating in close proximity to pesticides could be troubling. According to researchers, children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides for a number of reasons. Their tendencies to spend more time outdoors and to place foreign objects in their mouths, their body size and their state of ongoing physical and mental development increase their risk of harmful exposure, the researchers said.
As part of the study, pesticides deemed to be of public health concern were broken down into six categories based on their potential effects on human health: carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxins, cholinesterase inhibitors, fumigants, toxic air contaminants and priority pesticides for assessment and monitoring.
Researchers found that potassium n-methyldithiocarbamate was the most commonly used pesticide in Yolo County in 2010 and listed it under every category except cholinesterase inhibitors. According to the study, 1,661 pounds of the substance were used in the county in 2010.
However, Tjeerdema said that n-methyldithiocarbamate and other pesticides like it tend to have a high selective toxicity, meaning their harmful effects are generally confined to their targets.
“You try to develop pesticides that are selectively toxic,” he explained.
The researchers also said that the actual impact of the pesticides on children in the counties studied remains unknown at this point. The intention of the study was not to examine the health effects of pesticide application near schools, but rather to improve the methodology for the surveillance of agricultural pesticide use, they explained.
The full report can be read at http://cehtp.org/projects/ehss01/pesticides_and_schools/Pesticides_Schools_Report_April2014.pdf.
— Reach Will Bellamy at [email protected]