As a child growing up in Arvin, California, Gabriel Duarte played with his brothers in an orchard 15 feet from his family’s front door. Today he plays in a prison yard. Duarte believes these two points on his 20-year schedule are related.
Earlier this year, Duarte contacted me after reading an editorial I wrote about the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos. I had discovered that the probable reason for each of my three brain malformations in children was due to my acute exposure in 1989 to a flea “bomb” containing chlorpyrifos. Duarte believes his ADHD and impulsivity issues are the result of his chronic exposure to chlorpyrifos at home, school, and work.
Human and animal studies link exposure to chlorpyrifos to structural damage to the brain, neurobehavioural deficits, asthma, decreased IQ and a wide range of developmental disorders in children. He has also been linked to heart disease, lung cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and the lowering of sperm count in adults. Based on my research and interviews with Duarte and dozens of other residents of the San Joaquin Valley, it remains for me to draw the all-too-obvious conclusion that communities with a higher percentage of low-income residents are more likely to be exposed to harmful pesticides and other environmental toxins. And the question of race is an inextricable cofactor.
Get Talk Poverty delivered to your inbox
Duarte’s alcoholic father abandoned the family when Duarte was nine, around the time his mother was diagnosed with leukemia. (Pediatric and adult leukemias have also been bound exposure to pesticides.) Duarte, the third of four children, has become the man of the house and remembers preparing meals for his ailing mother and cycling to the pharmacy to take prescriptions for her mother and younger brother, who suffered from severe asthma.
Duarte and his brother were both diagnosed with ADHD by a school psychologist at Di Giorgio Elementary School. Duarte does not recall receiving any treatment or support from the school, which likely indicates that the Di Giorgio school district is under-resourced, given the district’s low tax base. Like their home on Richardson Road, the school adjoins an orchard where pesticides are sprayed regularly.
And if the exposure at home and at school was not enough, before leaving the family, the boys’ father was a field worker who probably would have brought home pesticide residues on his clothes and clothes. shoes. Duarte himself worked as a field worker as a teenager and also on a golf course picking up stray golf balls. (Chlorpyrifos is widely used in non-agricultural settings such as golf course and the golf balls are commonly thought be a source of pesticide residues.)
APE chlorpyrifos banned in household products in 2000. However, its use in agriculture has been allowed to Carry on. It is often small, rural, low-income communities of color that suffer the cumulative impacts of pesticide exposure and environmental degradation.
Nowhere is this more evident than in communities like Arvin, located in Kern County, at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley, the country’s most productive agricultural region. Millions of pounds of chlorpyrifos are used each year across the country. In 2016, 1.1 million pounds were used in California; more than a quarter of this total was used in Kern County alone.
According to the 2010 census – around the time Duarte allegedly took on the role of housekeeper – Hispanics or Latin Americans made up 92.7% of Arvin residents. Arvin’s average per capita income in 2010 was $ 9,241, just 19% of the US average of $ 48,880 at the time. Today, the percentage of families living below the poverty line in Arvin is more than double the national average.
This pattern of unequal protection constitutes environmental racism.
That low-income communities of color are disproportionately affected by the health effects of chemical toxins such as chlorpyrifos is neither news nor accident. People of color disproportionately occupy the most physically demanding, unpleasant, and lowest paying jobs. The roots of the problem can be traced back to the legacy of state-sanctioned racial segregation. For example, communities with a strong Latinx representation such as Salinas, Visalia, Santa Rosa and San Luis Obispo, California, ranks among the lowest metropolitan areas in the United States as a job opportunity. Not only have low-income families and people of color been segregation by residence and work, they were therefore forced to accommodate the worst types of environmental loads.
Both of Angel Garcia’s parents worked in the fields when he was growing up. He is now the head of the Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety. “If you walk through the central valley from town to town, you will realize how close these houses are to the fields,” Garcia explains. “You can talk to many residents in the community who will say to you ‘oh, this is that time of year when I have to close my windows, close my door, don’t let the kids out.’ It’s almost normalized but I don’t mean it’s normalized because I feel like it’s not normal. It’s so common.
Sacrifice Zones are chemical pollution hot spots where residents live or work in close proximity to heavily polluted industries or military bases. The post-Deepwater Horizon Gulf Coast, Cancer Alley in Louisiana, a Tesla factory built on a Superfund site in Buffalo, and the polluted neighborhoods surrounding the Houston Shipping Canal are just a few examples of where officials blinded pay attention to extreme environmental contamination in minority-dominated areas so that society as a whole can reap the rewards of a strong economy. This pattern of unequal protection constitutes environmental racism.
The San Joaquin Valley in general and Kern County in particular are examples of areas of sacrifice. Here, the burden of the vibrant agricultural economy is borne by those predominantly Latin workers who pick and pack the fruits and vegetables that feed America. The health risks associated with these jobs and the living conditions that accompany them have been well documented, but perhaps not more strikingly than by the CHARGE study conducted by the MIND Institute at UC Davis and led by epidemiologist Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD.
Dr Hertz-Picciotto and his team interviewed mothers living in California about their health before and during pregnancy, linking this information to another dataset kept by the state, a pesticide use declaration system. Their findings – that the incidence of developmental disabilities increases dramatically in areas where pesticides are applied – reinforce Previous search and have dire implications for families working and living in farming communities near places where pesticides are applied.
Garcia and others, such as Nayamin Martinez of the Central California Environmental Justice Network, drove recent trailers to Sacramento to lobby their state officials and organized an environmental bus tour that highlighted the hot spots. and the problems throughout the region. To their credit, the visit was attended by Cal EPA’s newly appointed director, its director of the Pesticide Regulatory Department (DPR) and a single local agriculture commissioner.
Garcia and Martinez’s organizations are also advocating for larger pesticide-free buffer zones around schools, an Amber Alert-style notification system that would notify residents of pesticide applications in their neighborhood and more sustainable farming practices. “We will never stop pushing for better health protection for low-income people of color,” Martinez says, “but the point is, most of the jobs in this region are farming.” Martinez, Garcia and other members of the environmental justice movement recognize that they must find a win-win roadmap for both the residents who depend on these jobs and the industry that provides them.
Their biggest “victory” to date can provide such a roadmap. In April, due to overwhelming scientific evidence and intense lobbying from environmental justice groups, the California Environmental Protection Agency, facing the Federal EPA example, ordered the state DPR to begin the process of banning chlorpyrifos statewide. After initial resistance, the chemical industry has given up its fight against the ban, which is now expected to come into effect in early 2020. This is the first time in California history that a pesticide registration has been revoked . To sweeten the bitter pill the industry is being asked to swallow and to help farmers move away from chlorpyrifos, the state is adding $ 5.7 million to fund research into safer, more sustainable alternatives.
As for Gabrial Duarte, he is currently awaiting trial at the remand center in Laredo, Kern County, for illegal possession of firearms. He has spent two and a half of the last five years in detention, first in juvenile detention, and currently awaiting trial. After our first conversation at jail in July, he requested to be seen by a mental health professional and has since been prescribed medication for his ADHD. He is also taking anger management courses.
“Before, I was a reckless renegade,” he told me over the phone. “Now I’m thinking. I wonder, “if I had to do this, how would you see it, how would they see it, and how would I see it”? This [the classes] helped me learn empathy.