Victory in California Pesticide Case for SAFE and Public Health

A protest sign against pesticide spraying from a San Francisco march in 2008. Photo: Kevin Krejci, Flickr CC.
A protest sign against pesticide spraying from a San Francisco march in 2008. Photo: Kevin Krejci, Flickr CC.

In a dramatic setback for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), a California court issued an injunction prohibiting further activity under the State’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) for the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program. The suit was brought by the City of Berkeley and eleven public health, conservation and food safety organizations, including Trinity County’s Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment (SAFE). The program allowed pesticide spraying at schools, organic farms, and backyards across California without public notice or scrutiny.

In a sweeping decision issued January 8, Judge Timothy M. Frawley ruled that the state agency failed to adequately review impacts, provide sufficient notice of pesticide spraying, or adequately disclose the harms of the chemicals used. The agency did not adequately account for the full range of dangers caused by the program, including risks of contaminating water supplies and the cumulative danger of adding even more pesticides to the more than 150 million pounds of pesticides already being used in California each year.

The Court agreed with SAFE and the plaintiffs that the cumulative impacts analysis was incomplete and inadequate, and the PEIR’s “baseline” assumptions of existing conditions were deeply flawed, which distorted the PEIR’s impact findings. The statewide “pest management” program required no site-specific analysis of risks before the application of 79 pesticides—including some known to cause cancer and birth defects and to be highly toxic to bees, butterflies, fish, and birds.

Importantly, the Court set aside the PEIR and reversed CDFA’s approvals under the Statewide Pest Management Program. The CDFA had already carried out more than 1,000 pesticide treatments since the program was approved in 2014. Further activity is now prohibited until the CDFA certifies a revised Environmental Impact Report curing these many deficiencies. The public will also now have the opportunity to provide input on new pesticide treatments and sites approved under the program.

SAFE is excited that the court has ruled that the State does not have free rein to use pesticides as a first resort or have a blank check to spray people’s yards, exposing children and pets to a range of pesticides that can cause serious long-term problems, including cancer, asthma, and IQ loss.

California has to now take reasonable, site- specific steps to curb the harms of pesticides to our water supplies and imperiled species like salmon. is ruling affirms that people should have a voice in whether pesticides are used in their own neighborhoods.

Some of the pesticides used in the program include these dangerous chemicals:

• Chlorpyrifos, known to cause brain damage in children and to threaten 97 percent of endangered wildlife;

• Neonicotinoid pesticides that are highly toxic to pollinators like bees and aquatic invertebrates like crustaceans and mollusks;

• The toxic fumigant methyl bromide, which depletes the protective ozone layer;

• The chemical warfare agent chloropicrin, which causes genetic damage.



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