Environmental justice advocate says Tulare County needs stronger policies to protect rural residents from pesticides drift and drinking water contamination
By Pedro Hernandez
A local environmental justice advocate says Tulare County has failed to protect Ivanhoe from the impacts of pesticides.
In previous years, the Ivanhoe Public Utility District has reported finding trace amounts of the chemical 123-TCP or 123 trichloropropane in one of the community water wells. The chemical has been used as a cleaning and degreasing solvent at industrial and hazardous waste sites and is also associated with pesticide products, according to the California State Water Resources Control Board, more commonly referred to as the State Water Board. Ivanhoe has not exceeded the maximum contaminant level (mcl) set by the state to determine when water is no longer safe for human consumption since the 123-TCP mcl was set in July 2017.
More importantly, residents living near the orchards surrounding Ivanhoe continue to report pesticide drift on to their homes. As a response and acknowledgement of the impacts of pesticides, Tulare County’s Resource Management Agency (RMA) committed to adopting protective policies as part of the 2019 Ivanhoe Community Plan approved in fall 2019. The document provides local area-specific policies and plans for the development of the town for the next decades but, as one environmental justice advocate points out, it fails to develop and adopt a buffer zone to keep residents safe from pesticides.
Blanca Escobedo, a policy advocate with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, said “overall there’s not a lot of community protection regarding pesticide application and exposure in places like Ivanhoe that are encompassed by agriculture. The health impacts that pesticide exposure can cause is something you take seriously.”
Escobedo said Tulare County also failed to honor its commitment to implement the new policies by fall 2020.
“The county did not meet the deadline and has not shown significant progress nor offered an alternative timeline,” she said.
When reflecting on efforts to enforce this commitment, Escobedo claims RMA has only responded with delaying tactics. She said RMA cites the pandemic as one of the reasons for the delays as many residents have made claims of pesticide drift during the pandemic.
“The County needs to dedicate more attention and dedication to producing this policy and working with the Ivanhoe residents who identified this,” she said, something many Ivanhoe residents are disappointed by. “They feel like there are no solutions to the problem because a lot of their concerns have gone ignored,” she said. “There needs to be more efforts in place by the county and the farming community to recognize that this is a problem but it doesn’t have to be this way. They know there are alternatives but they don’t want to deal with the transition pains.”
Residents and the environment must be protected while pesticides are in use. Escobedo asserts that “there should be solutions and projects that will help minimize the exposure and transition to agriculture methods that will protect communities for decades to come.”
Escobedo recommends the following solutions for reducing pesticide exposure:
- Protect communities surrounded by harmful pesticides with amenities and infrastructure like greenery to promote health, where they can walk and do physical activities safely. Many residents walk within the orchards.
- Create strong notification policies to share information about when pesticides are being applied for all Ivanhoe residents
- Enforce strict regulations on farmers limiting pesticide drift. Many residents are unaware about such regulations.
- Require regenerative non harmful ag practices less reliant on industrial agriculture
Until policies are adopted, Escobedo recommends reporting pesticide applications to contact the Tulare Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods or IVAN Network online at https://ivantulare.org/ or at (559) 562-3060. This reporting network is hosted by the Central California Environmental Justice Network. Residents can report issues like pesticide drift or illegal dumping online and the network hosts facilitate investigations into each incident.