Santa Cruz County’s use of controversial pesticide: small but significant, says activists
April 03, 2017 | Kara Guzman | Santa Cruz Sentinel
WATSONVILLE >> Chlorpyrifos, the pesticide linked to neurological damage in children that made national news last month when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused to ban it, is still used in Santa Cruz County.
Its use in Santa Cruz County is restricted, declining and small compared to other counties. County and state officials say the current regulations and review processes are enough to ensure safety. But some environmental activists and scientists disagree, and are calling for a statewide ban of chlorpyrifos.
How much is being used?
The most recent available local data is from 2014, from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. That year, 1,335 pounds of chlorpyrifos were applied in Santa Cruz County, over 79 instances of use. The pesticide was used both on the county’s North Coast and in the Watsonville area.
Apples were the most common crop (28 applications of the chemical, all in March). The pesticide was also used for brussel sprouts, broccoli, greenhouse-grown plants and outdoor-grown crops, such as greens.
Chlorpyrifos was used on strawberries twice in the county that year. Those two instances accounted for 380 of the county’s total 1,335 pounds of chlorpyrifos used that year.
Putting it in perspective
Santa Cruz County is somewhere in the bottom 50th percentile among other California counties, for use of chlorpyrifos. It’s nowhere close to the amounts used in sections of the Salinas Valley and the Central Valley, which are among the top users in the state, according to the California Environmental Health Tracking Program’s pesticide mapping tool.
Chlorpyrifos started being banned from residential use in 2001, due to increasing evidence that it was harmful to human health. But farms were still allowed to use the pesticide.
In the summer of 2015, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation further restricted the pesticide’s use. Its use in Santa Cruz County has “declined significantly” since then, which may be partly due to the last two rainy winters, said Juan Hidalgo, the county’s agricultural commissioner.
The county now has around 15 growers who use chlorpyrifos, said Hidalgo. Most of them grow apples, and only apply it once a year, in February and March.