Spraying rules around schools remain the same despite closures

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By Vicky Boyd


State regulations adopted in 2018 prohibit application of certain pesticides within 1/4 mile of a school or daycare between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays or when activities are present. But the requirements never considered the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced classroom learning to transition to home schooling.

Bruce Fry, who grows winegrapes near Lodi, said he has continued as if classes were still in session. Fry has one vineyard that falls within 1/4 mile of a school so he follows the weekday application prohibition and annual notification requirements.

He said he would have liked to have received better communication about what was happening at the school site after the pandemic struck.

“It’s really frustrating that the communication wasn’t earlier to let growers know regarding those regulations and whether school was out,” said Fry, a San Joaquin Farm Bureau board member. “My own kids are home, and there might have been some applications that weren’t in compliance because everyone thought school was out. But some schools have on-site activities and some don’t.

“No one told growers they were distributing food on Wednesdays, for instance. There should have been communication from DPR or somebody to let us know what’s happening. They should have said there’s going to be some food distributed so continue through the end of the school year like there were kids here.”

In a May 7 letter to county agricultural commissioners, California Department of Pesticide Regulation Director Val Dolcini reminded them of their responsibilities.

“State law requires CACs to protect students participating in educational instruction at home, along with their families and others providing that educational instruction at home, as well as students, parents, teachers and other personnel who remain present at school sites during the COVID-19 emergency,” according to the letter.

“Please note that DPR’s school regulations require annual notification by property operators within 1/4 mile of all school sites of pesticides that are expected to be used from July 1 of the current year through June 30 of the following year. The notification requirement remains in effect for this coming year. DPR also strongly encourages CACs to have growers provide appropriate notices to nearby residents, to the extent feasible.”

San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Pelican said he doesn’t anticipate any changes within the county, because it has always been a violation to make an application that drifts onto somebody’s home or yard.

“It’s nothing new,” he said. “There’s no way you would know who’s in what house, and there’s no way you could notify all of them.”

SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel, who does custom application with his brother, said they are mindful of the couple of daycare centers near where they treat. They also pay close attention to other locations.

“If it’s a highly sensitive area near a highway or a packinghouse, then we definitely try to do it on the weekends or evenings,” Samuel said.

While they attempt to schedule many applications at night, he said there aren’t enough hours to complete everything in a timely fashion after dark. Nevertheless, Samuel said, “My brother definitely works a lot of odd hours.”

Under the state regulations effective Jan. 1, 2018, applications of many pesticides by airplane, airblast sprayers and ground rigs within 1/4 mile of public schools, parks adjacent to those schools or child day care centers are prohibited from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. In addition, growers by April 30 of each year must provide operators of the schools or daycare centers with a list of products they plan to use during the upcoming season.

Since the regulations took effect, Pelican said he’s only had a couple of complaints about applications near schools. Subsequent investigations found there were no violations, he said.

Where Pelican said he has received significantly more complaints is with workers applying pesticides on school grounds. Because CDPR regulates those practices through the Healthy Schools Act, he passes those complaints on to the state.