Late last year, science reporter Liza Gross came to us with a project that examined pesticide use near schools in California. One high school in Oxnard that Gross focused on had the misfortune of being surrounded by strawberry fields that get dosed with a greater volume of toxic fumigants than any other community in the state. Most of the students at this school are Latino, which isn’t unusual. Gross found that Latino students were nearly twice as likely as whites to attend schools that faced the highest risk of exposures.
The resulting story, “Fields of Toxic Pesticides Surround the Schools of Ventura County,” was online Monday with The Nation. Gross reports that California state regulators allowed the spraying of pesticides near schools in Latino communities, even as parents sued to prevent it, claiming it was a violation of their civil rights. Tracking a 12-year case between parents, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and state officials, Gross reveals a pattern of discrimination that created startling health risks for Latino children.
By 2012, more than half the total volume of pesticides used in the state were applied in just 5 percent of California’s 1,769 zip codes. Latinos make up nearly 70 percent of the population in the 10 zip codes with the highest pesticide use.