Prioritize public health over profit

By Josh and Rebecca Harrell Tickell
We want to thank Mayor Johnny Johnston and Councilmember Suza Francina for attending the Ojai Health and Pesticides Town Hall on Sept. 28. It was also good to see a number of local Ojai growers and ranchers present in the audience. Also attending were Jonathan Katz, a local citrus grower, Steve Sprinkle, an organic farmer, and Conner Jones, a local permaculture rancher, who all spoke on our panel to discuss the issue of the overuse of toxic pesticides that we are facing in the Ojai Valley.
Ojai residents, especially children, are being unduly exposed to aerosol neurotoxins in our valley. A secondary issue we face is that a cocktail of additional pesticides and herbicides, including noenicitinoids and glyphosate (the primary ingredient in Roundup), is causing both health problems for local residents as well as killing off local beehives.
More than 300 local parents, growers, concerned citizens and ranchers in Ojai have signed the petition for advance notice for pesticide spraying in the city of Ojai, for a ban on pesticides on city property (in the same manner as the city of Malibu banned pesticides), and for a working group of farmers and nonfarmers to be established to begin to outline a healthy soils initiative for the city of Ojai and for our valley. The list of signatures from residents grows daily and eclipses any minor grumblings against these requested resolutions.
Which begs the following: Why would any neighborly person argue against giving neighbors fair notice of aerosol spraying of a neurotoxin? Why would any civic-minded person be against a city ensuring the health of its citizens on its own property? And why would anyone committed to the betterment of agriculture in our valley be against having healthy soils, since soil fertility is the basis for good and plentiful crops?
Since the town hall, numerous parents have come forth with legitimate health concerns because they have seen time and time again that, directly after neurotoxin pesticides are liberally sprayed with the World War II-era technology “fan sprayers” commonly used in the orchards near their homes, their children have come down with coughs, respiratory illnesses, asthma-like symptoms, red eyes, skin conditions, headaches and other health complications. These parents are not “hysterical” (a catch phrase of those who are misinterpreting the situation). Rather, these parents are looking at a very simple cause-effect situation. Furthermore, they and others in this township seek immediate remedy for a chronic public health issue.
The “fan sprayers” used in this valley are, at best, outdated and, at worst, one of the most poorly constructed and least-efficient contraptions used in modern farming operations. These machines use a rotary fan to literally “spray” chemicals in 360 degrees. A portion of the chemical ends up on the plants, but much of it simply goes into the air, onto the soil, and into the water table. The far-more-efficient electrostatic sprayers are virtually unheard of in our valley. But for a sensitive airshed, and for growers concerned about not wasting precious dollars on chemicals sprayed into the air instead of on crops, they would be a wise investment.
Before we address the peer-reviewed science on this issue, let us say this: The industry that put lead into our gasoline and paint was less than happy when peer-reviewed science came forth showing lead to be poisonous. In a short period of time, the lead industry’s legal liability soared, and profits declined. The same occurred with asbestos. Lead gave good oxygenation to gasoline, and asbestos was an effective thermal insulator. But the functionality of neither was more valuable than human health.
The information that was presented in agricultural colleges 40, 30 or even 20 years ago dates from a time when the knowledge base of cause-effect relationships of environmental toxins and public health issues was minuscule compared with the trove of non-industry-sponsored, independent, peer-reviewed science available today. Thus, when a person spraying synthetic-chemical pesticides says, “I have been doing this for decades and I know it’s completely safe,” our first question should be, “Has it also been decades since you last reviewed the science on the chemicals you are spraying?”
Let us speak generally about the science on the effect of pesticides in California agricultural areas, then specifically to just a few of the synthetic chemicals used in and around Ojai.
The Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, California, is a joint project of UC Berkeley to study the effects of pesticides and pollutants on pregnant women and young children. They have studied 600 women’s bodies, tracking those same women through pregnancy and birth. Then they studied their children. At age 2, the children of the women with the highest pesticides in their blood had the worst mental development and the most cases of developmental disorders. At age 5, the children whose mothers had the highest exposure to pesticides had poorer attention spans than the other children.
Now let us just look at a couple of the chemicals used locally at high levels, including glyphosate, over which Monsanto is embroiled in a $2 billion lawsuit for misrepresenting its toxicity claims, as many famers have contracted Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from exposure to the chemical.
Glyphosate works by disturbing a plant enzyme critical to the production of amino acids, thereby shutting down plant growth. Glyphosate is also a “chelator,” meaning it bonds to minerals, pulling them from the area in which it is sprayed, binding them and making them unavailable to plants, animals or humans. The California Environmental Protection Agency calls it “carcinogenic.”
Monsanto-funded studies show glyphosate is not in breast milk while other studies show that it is. [I] The list of probable and possible glyphosate toxicity issues includes bioaccumulation, increased breast cancer cells, severe organ damage, mammary tumors, toxic effects to fish livers and endocrine disruption. [ii] [iii] [iv]
Glyphosate is often sprayed on crops just prior to harvesting. In other words, its sprayed on foodstuffs just before they are turned into food. A U.S. Department of Agriculture map of the 100 million acres onto which glyphosate is sprayed shows that its use corresponds clearly to the “big agricultural” areas of the United States with the most concentration in the Midwest and down the Mississippi River basin. Another area of concentration runs along the East Coast. Finally, there is a heavy-use patch that corresponds to California’s Central Valley growing region and, specifically, the Ventura County watershed and an excessively high use of the chemical in the East End of Ojai.
Soon after glyphosate began being sprayed in vast quantities, new strains of “superweeds” began popping up in exactly the same places the chemical is sprayed. Today there are some 65 “confirmed glyphosate-resistant weeds,” which include horseweed, common ragweed, giant ragweed, palmer amaranth, common waterhemp, hairy fleabane, Italian ryegrass, rigid ryegrass and johnsonsgrass. About 50 percent of farmers surveyed say they’ve got glyphosate-resistant weeds. [v]
In other words, the very things this particular synthetic chemical is supposed to eliminate — weeds — are becoming stronger, thus requiring more use of the synthetic chemical over time. Ojai and its valley are no exception to this rule, thus the year-over-year increased spraying of the endocrine disruptor in our watershed.
UC Davis performed another study in 2014 that tracked 970 children who were born a mile or less from a farm. The study found that if the mothers of those children lived close to a farm that used organophosphate pesticides (like those common in the Ojai and Ventura regions), their children were 60 percent more likely to develop autism than those children whose mothers did not live close to treated fields. [vi]
In June 2015, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, working under the National Institutes of Health, published a study in the journal Environmental Health. The study found an association between the use of pyrenthroid pesticides (which are commonly used in the Ojai valley and Ventura watershed) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pyrenthroids are organic compounds that repel pests. They are believed to be harmless to humans and broken apart by sunlight.
The Cincinnati study referenced above looked at a cross section of 687 children between the ages of 8 and 15. Boys with detectable urinary 3-PBA (the breakdown chemical or “biomarker” of exposure to pyrenthroids) were three times more likely to have ADHD as compared with those without detectable levels of 3-PBA. Hyperactivity and impulsivity increased by 50 percent for every tenfold increase in 3-PBA in boys. [vii]
Researchers at Columbia University and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City have been tracking several hundred moms from pregnancy through birth. The mothers were measured for levels of organophosphates (again used in Ojai and the Ventura watershed). The researchers then evaluated their children’s motor skills at 1, 2, 3 and 7 years of age. The result? For every increment of increased prenatal exposure to organophosphate chemicals, the IQs of the children dropped by 1.4 percent and their working memory scores dropped by 2.8 percent. The relationship appears to be linear. In other words, the higher the exposure, the greater the damage to the child’s abilities. [viii]
We could continue, but to summarize every major such study on the synthetic chemicals liberally sprayed in our airshed would be both repetitive and depressing. Suffice it to say, there are more than 200 recent studies that directly correlate synthetic-chemical pesticide use with damage to children’s lungs, brains and bodies. In Ojai, there is both observational science, whereby parents and the elderly are seeing the effects of these chemicals that are being locally sprayed, as well as evidence-based science from major health institutions that confirms the validity of these observations.
It is helpful to think about the overall quantity of pesticides and herbicides sprayed in Ojai. Approximately 50,000 pounds of synthetic chemicals are sprayed around our township each year. Counting the citizens of Ojai and Meiners Oaks, that’s about 5 pounds of synthetic chemicals per person per year. This is considerably higher than the national average of 3 pounds per person per year. However, unlike most other residential areas of the United States, Ojai’s neighborhoods are intermixed with its heavily sprayed orchards. Our citizens’ exposure is higher than average, more direct and far more constant.
Thus, each time we see the overspray from our orchards, we must consider where these 5 pounds per person of pesticides go, what their short-term effects are, and what their long-term effects will be. The independent science and observations of local residents would suggest the pesticides neither magically stay on the crops nor do they become completely inert solely through photodegradation. Instead, a portion ends up in our air and in our bodies. Scientists tell us that, over time, these synthetic chemicals bioaccumulate.
Subsequent resolutions should address the need for air-monitoring stations, an obvious area we can advance as a community. We can also advance soil health, again with new science and techniques for rapidly building soil organic matter that are not yet taught in land grant or agricultural colleges. 
However, the issue at hand is serious and pressing. Along with the hundreds of signatories to the petition, we strongly urge you, from a scientific perspective and from a public health perspective, to heed our request for advance notice of pesticide spraying in the city of Ojai and to a ban on spraying pesticides on Ojai city property.
It is our hope that the agricultural landowners of this valley can universally transition to nontoxic, organic and regenerative methods of growing food for our community, and that citizens can support them financially, with labor, and in other ways to make smart, healthy choices for their own businesses and for their neighbors. It is our commitment that, in a short period of time, Ojai becomes a nationally recognized example of a water and airshed that is healthy for humans, plants and animals as well as bountiful and profitable for its farmers.
Together, we can achieve this vision. But to get there, we must first prioritize public health above profit.
— Josh and Rebecca Harrell Tickell live in Ojai. For more information, visit
[i] Slack Science Destroys Monsanto Breast Milk Study Posted on Jul 27 2015 - 2:15am by Sustainable Pulse
[ii] Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 Sep;59:129-36. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.05.057. Epub 2013 Jun 10. Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors.Thongprakaisang S1, Thiantanawat A, Rangkadilok N, Suriyo T, Satayavivad J. Environmental Toxicology Program, Chulabhorn Graduate Institute, Laksi, Bangkok 10210, Thailand.
[iii] Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerantgenetically modified maize Gilles-Eric Séralini, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois
Environmental Sciences EuropeBridging Science and Regulation at the Regional and European Level201426:14 DOI: 10.1186/s12302-014-0014-5©  Séralini et al.; licensee Springer 2014
Received: 22 March 2014Accepted: 16 May 2014
[iv] Global transcriptomic profiling demonstrates induction of oxidative stress and of compensatory cellular stress responses in brown trout exposed to glyphosate and Roundup Tamsyn M Uren Webster and Eduarda M Santos BMC Genomics201516:32 DOI: 10.1186/s12864-015-1254-5©  Uren Webster and Santos; licensee BioMed Central. 2015 Received: 2 May 2014Accepted: 16 January 2015
[viii] Pediatrics, December 2006, VOLUME 118 / ISSUE 6, Impact of Prenatal Chlorpyrifos Exposure on Neurodevelopment in the First 3 Years of Life Among Inner-City Children, Virginia A. Rauh, Robin Garfinkel, Frederica P. Perera, Howard F. Andrews, Lori Hoepner, Dana B. Barr, Ralph Whitehead, Deliang Tang, Robin W. Whyatt