Archives for posts with tag: California

From The Fresno Bee:

From her living room window, Valeriana Alvarado can see the Friant-Kern Canal, where pristine snowmelt flows to farm fields.

She loves walking along the canal, knowing the sparkling water will irrigate oranges, peaches and grapes that keep her farmworker family employed.

But she wouldn’t mind getting some of that irrigation water at the drafty two-room trailer where she lives with eight family members.

“It’s much better water than we get from the tap,” she said through a Spanish interpreter. “It’s not easy for us to buy bottled water all the time.”

The water is often laced with nitrates, a chemical linked to a potentially lethal infant illness as well as cancer.

Rural Valley residents in an area half the size of Maryland live day-to-day wondering if the next drink of water will make their children sick.

As long ago as 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey said nitrates appeared to be a greater threat to ground-water quality than thousands of tons of pesticides.

While on a worldwide investigation of dirty drinking water — with stops in Bangladesh, Uruguay and Namibia — a United Nations investigator visited the Tulare County community of Seville in March. After seeing conditions, the investigator urged state and federal authorities to consider healthy drinking water a human right and clean up the mess.

In a state with the world’s seventh-largest economy, it wouldn’t take a lot of money to clean up the Valley’s small-town water problems — $150 million total for projects on record. San Francisco last year committed the same amount of money to help homeowners and businesses finance solar panels and water efficiency.

But small-town residents face an uphill fight for the healthy drinking water that most Californians take for granted. Townfolk feel they have nowhere to turn. State public health authorities make a habit of inviting them to apply for cleanup funding, then turning them down for technicalities.

Residents, activists, engineers and local officials say the Valley’s small drinking water systems are barely a blip on the state’s radar.

More.

From Bay Citizen:

Organic-produce buyers who think they are striking a blow against a chemical-heavy industrial food system may be surprised when it comes to one of California’s signature fruits: those “organic” strawberries that overflow from baskets at local farmers’ markets are not nearly as organic as they may think.

In a letter sent to the United States Department of Agriculture last month, an advocacy group in San Francisco and a triad of local growers demanded an end to what they say are vague federal regulations that allow millions of pounds of toxic chemicals to be used to grow plants that eventually produce strawberries labeled as organic.

“Seeds and plant stock widely used in organic agriculture are grown with prohibited materials that violate existing regulations and that jeopardize the credibility of the organic label,” the letter reads. Signed by three growers and the Pesticide Action Network, it added that officials with the National Organic Program at the department “must act with some urgency” to support production of a berry that is sustainable from start to finish.

Berries — including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries — present a unique challenge to growers of organic crops. They all go through at least one rotation as non-fruiting nursery plants, and during that stage are fumigated with chemicals including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide known to be depleting the ozone layer.

The letter singles out strawberries, a particularly pest-prone crop and the jewel of California’s fruit basket. The state pumps out crates of the berries by the millions, shipping them across the country and internationally. It also produces the majority of the world’s strawberry nursery plants.

What it lacks is a single organic nursery.

In 1984, California produced the nation’s first commercially farmed organic strawberry, sold out of the back of a truck in Santa Cruz. The owner of that truck, Jim Cochran, who now manages a 20-acre organic berry farm, Swanton Berry Farm, in Davenport on the coast north of Santa Cruz, is one of the letter’s signers.

National regulations require that organic produce be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides. Strawberries in California are grown over a five-year cycle, often starting as nursery plants in the fields of Southern California before being transplanted to the sandy soils of Northern California.Before they begin bearing fruit, virtually all plants — whether they will go on to produce conventional berries or organic ones — are treated with fumigants and other synthetic pesticides.

More.

From California Watch:

California’s former top pesticide regulatory official dismissed safety guidelines suggested by her own staff scientists on the grounds that they were “excessive” and too onerous for the pesticide manufacturer, recently released internal documents show.

In response, the scientists lodged a formal protest, calling the official’s actions “not scientifically credible,” according to the documents released by court order last week.

The documents amount to a “smoking gun,” says Paul Blanc, a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at UC San Francisco. Last year, Blanc helped advise the staff scientists on their evaluation of the pesticide, methyl iodide.

“The decision by the regulatory superiors was not science-based,” Blanc said.

In one of the documents, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, who led the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation until this year, weighs a recommendation from her staff that farm workers be exposed to no more than a trace amount of methyl iodide per day. The recommendation – intended to protect farm workers from cancer and miscarriage – is “excessive and difficult to enforce,” Warmerdam wrote in April 2010, about two weeks before the department made its recommendation that California approve methyl iodide. If the restrictions on methyl iodide were approved, she wrote, the pesticide manufacturer might find the recommendations “unacceptable, due to economic viability.”

“(Warmerdam’s) method was to consult with the pesticide manufacturer and determine what was acceptable to them, and then decide on what an acceptable level of exposure was,” said Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist for the Pesticide Action Network, a group suing the state.

Department spokeswoman Lea Brooks declined to comment on the documents, citing the pending litigation. “It is inappropriate to try this case in the media,” Brooks said.

Warmerdam resigned from the department in January. Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to appoint a successor.

Methyl iodide was approved in December 2010, at the tail end of the Schwarzenegger administration. It’s a chemical fumigant used primarily by strawberry growers. A coalition of environmental and farm-worker groups has sued the state to try to ban the chemical.

As part of the suit, the groups asked the Department of Pesticide Regulation to release documents explaining how the agency decided to approve the chemical. The plaintiffs wanted to know how the agency had settled on exposure levels more than 100 times higher than what scientists within the agency believed were safe.

When pressed for documents that might reveal the agency’s rationale, Warmerdam declined to release them, citing the “deliberative process” exemption, which allows government agencies to keep the thought process behind a decision private. A public records act request filed by California Watch and KQED QUEST elicited the same response.

Earlier this month, a judge disagreed, ordering the department to release the documents, which plaintiffs shared with reporters on Thursday.

“DPR has an obligation to explain to the public the basis for its decision,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who is representing the plaintiffs. “The public has every right to know that DPR approved methyl iodide over the objections of its own staff scientists.”

That rift between scientists and regulators first became public last year, in an e-mail exchange unearthed by KQED QUEST and California Watch’s Public Records Act request. In the e-mails, two staff toxicologists – Lori Lim and Ruby Reed – said they had not been part of the decision to approve methyl iodide, and they stood by their original work.

“We had to read between the lines to figure out how the target levels were calculated,” they wrote. Both Lim and Reed have since resigned from the department.

The new documents show staff scientists sending their complaints up the department’s chain of command.

“I am puzzled by the numbers,” staff scientist Jay Schreider wrote in a memo to the state’s top toxicologist, Gary Patterson. Approving methyl iodide was “management’s prerogative,” Schreider wrote. But he said managers should not imply that the scientists’ findings “are the basis for that decision, or that the apparent ‘mix and match’ approach provides a scientifically credible basis for the decision.”

In his order, Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court found that the “great majority” of the department’s documents should never have been withheld in the first place. As for the rest, Roesch found “the interest in public disclosure clearly outweighs agency interest in non-disclosure.”

The documents reveal a rare point of agreement between the department’s scientists and its managers: that methyl iodide may cause brain damage in developing fetuses.

When California first began evaluating methyl iodide, it took the unusual step of bringing in an outside group of scientists, hired to work alongside department scientists, as an independent peer-review group. The scientists, including UCSF’s Blanc, worried that methyl iodide could drift up from strawberry fields and be inhaled by pregnant farm workers or children playing nearby, causing subtle effects such as IQ loss, which might never be detected or traced back to the chemical.

“Methyl iodide concentrates in the fetal brain to levels well above those in the mother,” they wrote in their assessment. “There is a high likelihood that methyl iodide is a developmental neurotoxin.”

The new documents show department managers also contending with the lack of data about methyl iodide’s potential effects on developing brains. In animal tests, they wrote, “several measures of neurological deficiency were measured. … Overall, there is a need for a more thorough investigation into developmental neurotoxicity in pre- and post-natal exposures to methyl iodide, because the existing data do not address these exposures.”

More.

(Image Creative Commons by Donnaphoto.)

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From Unnatural Causes (Episode 5 – Place Matters):

Community activist Torm Nompraseurt leads a “toxic tour” of Richmond, California where high levels of industrial pollution are wreaking havoc on the health and wellbeing of residents.

From The New York Times, September 16, 2010:

Major energy corporations are rallying to defeat California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act. They claim that the act, which caps factory carbon and gasoline emissions, threatens jobs in an a weak economy. However, the act could actually “save the state’s consumers as much as $670 per household in 2020”.

Read excerpts from the New York Times article below and keep scrolling for links to more resources.

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Charles and David Koch, the billionaires from Kansas who have played a prominent role in financing the Tea Party movement, donated $1 million to the campaign to suspend the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was passed four years ago, and signaled that they were prepared to invest more in the cause. With their contribution, proponents of the proposition have raised $8.2 million, with $7.9 million coming from energy companies, most of them out of state. . . .

The law in question, known as A.B. 32, mandates slashing carbon and other greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, by forcing power companies and industries to cap their emissions and by slashing carbon in gasoline. Some oil industry leaders said it would force them to invest millions of dollars to comply, and asserted that it would force companies to cut jobs and raise the price of gas at the pumps. . . .

“We have every reason to believe that they are going to put the money in to run a big television campaign in the most expensive media market in the country,” said Annie Notthoff, the California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “We certainly are expecting to have a fight on our hands.”

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