April 12, 2005 - New Issues in the Rural/Urban Collision
As urban scrawl continues across the nation, what were historically issues only for farmers are spilling over into the suburbs. Airborne pesticides, used in nearby croplands, become more and more an issue for suburbanites. New regulatory lines are being drawn across the nation due to increased exposure to pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. Such substances have been linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders, and neurological illnesses.
A lawsuit in California by the activist groups Californians for Pesticide Reform and Pesticide Action Network North America seeks to force state regulators to move more quickly to ban toxic crop chemicals. National groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council charge in eight other lawsuits in Seattle, Baltimore and other cities that the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to regulate pesticides as required by the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act.
The law toughened pesticide health standards and required the EPA to determine safe tolerances by next year for pesticide residue on foods, including specific tolerances for children. The agency says it's on schedule to meet the deadline. The lawsuits come as competition from overseas growers, rising energy costs and consumer demand for flawless produce are squeezing farmers.
In several states -- including Indiana, Washington, Maine, New York, Florida and North Carolina -- activist groups such as Indiana's Hoosier Environmental Council are trying to measure pesticide exposure, educate farm workers and suburbanites living close to farms, and pressure regulators to more closely control pesticide use.
"This has moved from a farm-worker fight in the past to middle-class America taking up the battle cry -- everyday people living in suburban parts of agricultural areas," says California state Sen. Dean Florez, whose state is by far the nation's biggest food producer and pesticide user.