by Fred Alvarez, Los Angeles Times
Pesticide use rose slightly in California during 2003 for the
second straight year, an upsurge attributed primarily to farmland
battles against disease brought on by wet, cool weather.
In an analysis scheduled for release today, the state Department
of Pesticide Regulation reported a 4% jump in chemical usage in
2003 compared with the previous year. Growers and others applied
175 million pounds of pesticides in 2003, a 7-million pound increase
As in previous years, the most intense applications occurred
in the San Joaquin Valley, with four counties in that region reporting
the highest use statewide.
Fresno County was the state's top user at 27.2 million pounds.
Imperial and Ventura counties reported the highest usage in Southern
California, at 6.8 million pounds and 6.6 million pounds, respectively.
Overall usage was the highest it has been since 2000, when 188
million pounds of pesticides were applied.
While year-to-year variations are normal, Mary-Ann Warmerdam,
the newly appointed director of the pesticide regulation department,
said she intends to launch an initiative to look for ways to reduce
pesticide risks and use.
"Maintaining the status quo just isn't good enough,"
said Warmerdam, adding that she wants to particularly encourage
use of strategies that discourage chemical applications in favor
of biological controls and other eco-friendly methods.
Although overall usage ticked up only slightly, environmental
activists and farmworker advocates expressed concern about increasing
reliance on pesticides believed to cause birth defects and cancer.
According to the state analysis, the use of chemicals classified
as reproductive toxins increased 2%, or 480,000 pounds, from 2002
to 2003. Applications of suspected carcinogens increased 1.9 million
pounds, or 7%.
"We in California should be pushing to get money into the
state to help farmers transition away from these toxic chemicals,"
said Susan Kegley, senior scientist at the San Francisco-based
Pesticide Action Network.
"It would be good for growers, good for the environment
and good for public health."