A new study out of UCLA faults California's county agriculture commissioners for failing to propose alternatives to dangerous pesticides whenever possible and overlooking risks associated with using different chemicals on the same or adjacent fields within the same period of time.
The report released publicly Wednesday says county commissioners violate state law and industry best practices by leaving it to industry pest control advisers to evaluate which pesticides are appropriate to use in a given situation. It says the state's 56 commissioners are also in violation when they disregard the effects of "cumulative" use of different pesticides on the same or nearby properties.
County ag commissioners are supposed to deny pesticide permit applications "where feasible safer alternatives or mitigation measures are available," the report states. It says commissioners are "responsible for knowing local conditions and utilizing such knowledge in making these determinations."
The report, titled "Governance on the Ground: Evaluating the Role of County Agricultural Commissioners in Reducing Toxic Pesticide Exposures," recommends local and state-level pesticide authorities come up with a better system for protecting farm workers, bystanders and residents from potentially harmful effects of toxic and highly volatile chemicals.
Kern Agricultural Commissioner Glenn Fankhauser acknowledged it is standard practice in California for county-level ag regulators to defer to pest control advisers hired by growers to recommend which pesticides to use.
While Fankhauser's office does issue pesticide permits, he said it's not his job to make recommendations on which chemicals to use. Offering such guidance could amount to an inappropriate product endorsement that government officials like him should not be making, he said.
"Further," he added, "the employees that are currently in the state ag commissioner system are not educated as pest-control advisers."
As for the report's conclusions regarding evaluation of risks from so-called cumulative pesticide use, Fankhauser asserted state and federal regulators are in a better position to determine what chemicals should not be in close proximity, saying, "We're not doctors."
THE STATE’S POSITION
The state Department of Pesticide Regulation also defended California's system, saying in a written statement California has a robust pesticide program that involves oversight at the federal, state and county levels.
“Most other states do not have localized county input," agency spokeswoman Charlotte Fadipe stated.
She said the department engages with county ag commissioners to develop guidelines on the cumulative use of pesticides.
"The scientific literature and guidance for assessing cumulative effects is still relatively new and has not been fully vetted," she wrote, "however DPR ensures that our scientists are kept abreast of the most current science on that issue."
Wednesday's report is the third is a series looking at how California regulates pesticides. Two previous studies by UCLA researchers scrutinized the state Department of Pesticide Regulation's approach to safer alternatives and cumulative exposures.