Organophosphates, which include chlorpyrifos, are a widely applied class of pesticides. Exposure to these chemicals can cause weakness in respiratory muscles, wheezing, and respiratory distress, according to the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides. It can also cause short and long-term health problems like asthma. Children are especially vulnerable to organophosphates, even if there is minimal exposure.
With over 330 schools in Fresno County alone, the use of organophosphates like chlorpyrifos is concerning to researchers and activists. Pesticides are applied within one-quarter of a mile of nearly 40 percent of Fresno County schools, according to the California Environmental Health Tracking Program.
“We as a department do not think it is wise to build schools near farms,” CDPR's Fadipe said. “Oftentimes, the farms were there first. The fact is that both are there now.”
More than 500,000 children in California attend schools within one quarter of a mile of farms that apply pesticides. Chlorpyrifos is one of the 10 chemicals most often used near schools, and predominantly in Latino communities.
“We wanted to see a one mile buffer, because the vast majority of drift incidents occur at distances greater than a quarter mile,” said Jane Sellen, director of Californians for Pesticide Reform.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s absolutely heartbreaking.”
Nearly 16 percent of children in Fresno suffer from asthma. The California Department of Public Health found Fresno to have the highest rates of childhood asthma in the state. Asthma is the primary reason why children miss school in Fresno County. Many children miss more days of school than the district allows.
“I understand how negatively impactful our air quality and the use of pesticides can be on developing kids, said Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, Fresno Unified School District Board President.
“When kids aren’t in school, they’re not learning. When a kid is suffering from these ailments, even when it’s a mild case and they’re in their desk, they’re still being distracted by this and it impedes learning. It has a pretty bad effect on our kids.”
GeanCarlos Govea and Anai Govea in live in Orange Cove, a farming town of just over 9,000 residents, where their eight-year-old daughter suffers from asthma.
“There are people that live in agricultural communities that are justifiably very concerned about what pesticides are doing to their children’s health,” Harley said. “We may see increased risk of asthma in kids with exposure to organophosphate pesticides. Is this kid’s asthma caused by organophosphates? I don’t know. Nobody will know.”
“...we know that exposure to this pesticide is not healthy.”