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Out of the Box

By Tara Treasurefield

WE'VE HAD ENOUGH. While state officials pose for photo ops, we're drowning in pesticides. We can't breathe. Nature is dying. Our pets are dying. Our children are dying. To survive, we must demand freedom from toxic trespass. We have no choice. State regulatory agencies block even modest attempts by local governments to protect us from exposure to pesticides.

In March, Fairfax passed an ordinance that prohibits pesticides from town property and public rights of way. The ordinance also requires residents to give 48-hour notice to neighbors within 150 feet before applying pesticides outdoors. Following the example of Fairfax, Sebastopol later this summer will vote on a similar ordinance. In separate letters, an attorney representing Pest Control Operators of California Inc. and Paul E. Helliker, director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation, warned Fairfax that the new ordinance violates state law. Helliker contends that, as written, the ordinance could be applied to property not owned by Fairfax, and that Fairfax has no right to require advance notice of pesticide spraying on private property. That, he says, amounts to regulating pesticides, which is the DPR's job. In response, Fairfax has established a legal fund to defend its ordinance in court.

This isn't just a turf battle. Helliker advocates integrated pest management, or IPM, which promotes nontoxic and least toxic pest control methods first. IPM doesn't exclude synthetic (chemical) pesticides, even though they disrupt and deplete the natural world. There's a vast difference between IPM and organic agriculture, which prohibits synthetic pesticides.

Even within IPM guidelines, there's a decided disconnect between theory and practice at the DPR. A matter-of-fact report on the DPR website mentions that carbaryl is being used in residential areas to protect vineyards. What happened to IPM? There are organic alternatives to carbaryl, which the EPA places in the group of pesticides that pose the greatest risk to the public health. In addition, the DPR reports that it has the tightest restrictions in the United States for methyl bromide, one of the deadliest pesticides of all. That's great, except that what's needed is an immediate and complete ban of methyl bromide.

We're running out of time. Only fundamental change can save us. Although it doesn't go far enough, the Fairfax ordinance is a step in the right direction. Hurray for Fairfax! As Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson write in their recent book Cultural Creatives, "When you're trying to change the old culture, . . . you can't play within the old culture's mind-set."

Tara Treasurefield writes about pesticides, energy, the environment, and related issues, and serves on the city of Sonoma's Toxics Task Force. For info about the Fairfax dispute with the state, see www.safe2use.com.

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From the June 14-20, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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