California grows nearly 90% of the nation’s strawberries. About 30% of the state’s strawberry production takes place in coastal Ventura County, with much of the crop being grown in the community of Oxnard. Strawberry producers rely on chemicals called fumigants to help grow the crop. Now, the use of fumigants has become a civil rights issue.
The situation is complex. Ventura County, directly north of Los Angeles County, is an agricultural powerhouse. Much of the agricultural production that occurs on the Oxnard Plain is on the ag-urban (peri-urban) interface. And that’s a significant issue: Ventura County has more schools and more students – about 13,000 – attending classes within a 1/4 mile of the production areas most heavily treated with pesticides than any other place in the state. The majority of those students are Latino. In 1999, a group filed a Civil Rights Act complaint with the EPA, alleging civil rights violations and lax enforcement of the regulations regarding pesticide use.
“Once the EPA accepts a civil-rights complaint for investigation, officials are obliged to make a preliminary finding within 180 days. The agency missed that deadline by more than a decade, during which time strawberry growers applied more than 780,000 pounds of methyl bromide within a mile and a half of Rio Mesa High School, Department of Pesticide Regulation records show. Finally, on April 22, 2011, nearly twelve years after Maria G. and the five other parents filed their civil-rights complaint, the EPA reached a decision. California pesticide regulators had violated Title VI, the EPA ruled, by approving methyl bromide permits that failed to consider the health impacts on Latino children attending schools near fumigated areas. Even then, however, the agency did not inform the families.”