Heavy Methyl Bromide Use Near California Schools: Methyl Bromide Use Near California Schools
When methyl bromide is applied to a home for structural fumigation, California regulations require that all occupants in the adjacent homes are notified and in some cases evacuated for several days. When methyl bromide is applied in fields adjacent to homes, schools, or businesses, no notification is required by the state.
When methyl bromide is emitted from the stack of a fumigation facility, it is regulated by the California Air Toxic Hot Spot Information and Assessment Act of 1987. Under this law, substantial reductions in methyl bromide emissions have been required to protect the public as far as two miles from the fumigation facilities. When methyl bromide is applied in agricultural fields, no risk assessments are made, and buffer zones as little as 30 feet are employed. This is not because applications to fields are safer than structural treatment, nor is it because less methyl bromide is used.
Recognizing the hazards of agricultural methyl bromide applications, in 1993 the California Department of Pesticide Regulation proposed warning zones around fields where methyl bromide was to be applied. These proposed warning zones extended as far as four miles from agricultural applications, depending on the pounds of methyl bromide applied per acre (CEPA 1993). Ultimately, however, the warning zone proposal was scrapped by the state. In the interim, methyl bromide applications in close proximity to schools, homes, and businesses appears to have increased.
To better understand the hazards to people and the magnitude of methyl bromide applications that occur within these proposed warning zones, the Environmental Working Group analyzed California pesticide use information from 1992, in combination with information on the location of schools and day care centers across the state.
At least 1,865 schools and day care centers statewide were within 2 miles of at least 2,000 pounds, one ton, of methyl bromide application in 1992 (Table 1). At least 826 schools and day care centers statewide are within 2 miles of over 10,000 pounds of methyl bromide use, and at least 10 schools were less than 2 miles from over 100,000 pounds of methyl bromide application. Twenty schools were within 2 miles of 75,000 pounds or more of methyl bromide use in 1992, and eighteen of these were in Ventura, Monterey, and Santa Barbara counties (Table 2). The top five (and 10 of the top 15) vulnerable schools in the state were all located in Oxnard, in Ventura County (Figure 1).
At least 841 elementary schools and day care centers were within 1.5 miles of one ton or more of agricultural methyl bromide applications in 1992. Three hundred and twenty one elementary schools and day care center were within 1.5 miles of over 10,000 pounds of methyl bromide use that same year (Table 3).
Two schools in Union City, Alameda County were within 1 mile of more than 42,000 pounds of methyl bromide use, followed by three schools in Ventura county within 1 mile of between 18,000 and 41,000 pounds of use. Ventura and Monterey counties had 131 and 112 elementary schools and day care centers respectively within 2 miles of 10,000 pounds or more methyl bromide use. Stanislaus county had 96 and Alameda county had 83. Using one ton of methyl bromide as the yardstick, Orange County had the most elementary schools and day care facilities at risk, with 83 elementary schools (enrolling 45,000 children), plus 212 day care centers, within 2 miles of 2,000 pounds or more methyl bromide use (Table 1).