State DPR’s pesticide warning system takes flight

Residents and workers would be notified 48 hours prior to pesticide spraying

Workers carrying tools to work in an orchard outside of Dinuba.
Darren Fraser
Published December 18, 2023  • 
11:00 am

LINDSAY – The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is making strides towards a more transparent and community-centric approach to pesticide notification systems, sparking important conversations about safety and public awareness.

At the heart of these discussions are recent public hearings conducted by DPR, marking a significant step toward increased transparency in agricultural chemical use. These hearings, including one held in Clovis on Dec. 13, are shedding light on a groundbreaking proposal that aims to provide advance notice to the public regarding pesticide applications.

The focus of the system concerns the application of pesticides known as “restricted materials,” materials that are either sprayed or applied directly to the soil. These sprayed materials may drift because they can be carried by the wind. DPR regulations have long required property owners to obtain an agricultural use restricted material permit and file a Notice of Intent (NOI) with the County Agricultural Commissioner (CAC) before applying a restricted material. 

According to the “Statewide Notification of Agricultural Use of Restricted Materials” – which the DPR published regarding the notification system – the two-pronged requirement has been in existence for over 45 years.

Under the new system, property owners would be required to file their NOIs at least 48 hours prior to spraying a restricted material and at least 24 hours prior to applying the material directly to the soil.

Angel Garcia, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, said he is happy the DPR is moving forward with the beta testing of the pilot program in Tulare County. However, Garcia does wish the notification system was more exact.

“It only provides information on one square mile where the application will take place,” Garcia said.

According to the DPR’s “Initial Statement of Reasons and Public Report,” the department used the Bureau of Land Management’s Public Land Survey System (PLSS) to establish the size of the notification area.

Garcia said the notification system is not just for farmworkers.

“The system is for the community at large. Farmworkers and community members,” said Garcia. “Just having the opportunity to avoid an area where a pesticide is being applied can be a major step forward. If a pesticide is drift-prone, having the opportunity to leave an adjacent field is important. That might avoid incidents in recent years, noticeably in Dinuba.”

The incident Garcia referred to occurred on June 19, 2019. Farmworkers fell ill after a pesticide that had been sprayed in a nearby peach orchard drifted over a vineyard; and as a result over 60 workers became ill. 

The workers had been exposed to the pesticide Hexythiazox, which is used to control mites on fruits and vegetables. There were no fatalities but the workers had to be taken to local hospitals for treatment.

Garcia said he hoped the implementation of a new system would make it easier for farmworkers to gain greater awareness not only of their work environment but also of the resources available to them should they need to report a spraying incident or other problem.

“To this day, there are farmworkers who are unaware of the existence of their local ag commissioner’s office,” he said. “We want them to connect with their local ag commissioner.”

Garcia said the system is currently being beta tested in Tulare County. Last year, DPR rolled out a different configuration of the system in Riverside, Santa Cruz, Stanislaus and Ventura counties.

The system will alert users via email or text – or both – and will be accessible by Spanish-only speakers.

DPR’s Leia Bailey told the times, “I want to note that we are currently in the midst of a public comment period that ends Jan. 12. DPR will determine next steps as part of the rulemaking process following the close of the public comment period and review of public comments received.”

Darren Fraser