Pesticide Watch Education Fund
School Protection Zones
More than 150 million pounds of agricultural pesticides are used every year in California. As
chemicals that are designed to kill or damage living things, pesticides pose a variety of health
hazards. Almost 20 percent of the agricultural pesticides used in California are known to cause
cancer, almost 10 percent are known to damage our nervous systems, and more than 10 percent
are known to cause reproductive harm.
The movement of pesticides through the air away from where they are applied is called pesticide
drift, and with 90 percent of pesticides used in the state prone to moving away from where they
are applied, it is a virtually inevitable consequence of pesticide use. In rural agricultural areas of
California, pesticides are routinely applied near schools. In Tulare County, for example, 49
percent of schools are within one-quarter (¼) mile of agricultural fields. The proximity of
schools to pesticide use that puts children at risk of exposure to airborne pesticides is an endemic
problem throughout California’s agricultural areas. In addition to drift from fields, widespread
state and county pesticide spraying targeted at invasive species (e.g. light brown apple moth) can
result in drift onto schools and other sensitive sites.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the adverse health effects of pesticide exposure because of
their size, their rapidly growing bodies, and the special ways they interact with their environment
(such as playing on the ground and putting their hands in their mouths), meaning that their
exposure to pesticides is relatively much greater than for adults. Children require special
protection from pesticides because of the increased risk to their developing bodies posed by
In nearly one-quarter of California’s top agricultural producing counties,
crops are better protected than schoolchildren
For this reason, several California counties have set up limited “protection zones” around schools
that restrict the uses of some pesticides. However, the current protection zones are inadequate for
two reasons: 1) existing school protection zones usually apply only to specific pesticides under
special circumstances and do not include the majority of the most hazardous pesticides, such as
carcinogens, neurotoxins, and hormone disruptors; and 2) existing school protection zones are
not consistent across the state.
This report analyzes current requirements for protection zones around schools in California’s 25
largest agricultural-production counties. It shows that many counties do not have any school
protection zones, and in places where they do exist, they are often far smaller than those
established to protect agricultural activities – crops and pollinating bees – from pesticide drift.
As a result, in many California counties, crops are better protected from hazardous pesticides
In order to protect children’s health from the dangers of pesticide drift, decision-makers should
take the following steps:
1. Require protection zones around schools where pesticides cannot be applied.
These protection zones should be comprehensive (applying to all pesticides at all times),
consistent across all counties in the state, and health-protective.
2. Transition to sustainable agriculture and pest management practices. Federal,
state and local governments need to provide farmers with incentives to transition to
organic and sustainable pest management practices
3. Phase-out the most dangerous pesticides, including those that cause cancer, reproductive harm,
or damage the nervous system
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