A few years ago, Oxnard, CA High School student Dayane Zuñiga began running track for her high school team. During her route, Zuniga frequently noticed a strange odor coming from the local strawberry fields. At first, she did not pay much attention to the smell. Having grown up in one of the largest strawberry growing regions in the country, she was used to odd odors (Gross). However, as time went on, the odor worsened. As she ran closer to the farming area, she noticed farmers working in the fields with facemasks. Zuñiga immediately suspected that the men were applying chemicals to the plants. She wondered though, why no one had warned her team.
The next day Zuñiga approached her school Principle and asked if the administration had received notices about pesticide use around the school, attended by more than 32,000 students (Gross). He expressed to her that they had in fact been informed, and she should not worry. Thus, Zuñiga disregarded the issue and went back to her daily routines.
The strawberries produced by Oxnard and the surrounding Ventura County, amounts to more than 630 millions pounds per year, enough to feed 78 million Americans (Adams). This production takes a damaging toll however, as strawberries rank among the countries most pesticide-intensive crops. In addition, the pesticides used in strawberry farming are among the most toxic. Farmers depend on highly volatile chemicals called fumigants (epa.gov). The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recognized that the fumigants include sixty-six different chemicals that are the most likely to float through the air and cause harm. When tested on humans and animals, these chemicals have been linked to several chronic health problems including asthma, birth defects, cancer and multiple neurodevelopmental abnormalities (epa.gov)
Once the proof of devastating effects were publicized, the issue became much more real for the people of Oxnard county and the surrounding areas.
As parents began to step forward and attack the Environmental agencies responsible for regulating the pesticide use around the community, the actions were mirroring that of the Love Canal protests, and the protests in Warren County referred to as NIMBY.
NIMBY, an acronym for “not in my back yard,” is an expression that describes the attitudes of people who vehemently oppose proposed zoning or proposed building developments because it interferes with the safety of their personal property and environment (Gil). In Warren County, the citizens sparked intense opposition to the construction of the disposal site in attempt to save their community. Similarly, Love Canal is a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y., that gained environmental notoriety when it was discovered that 21,000 tons of toxic waste had been buried beneath it (Moss). Beneath both Love Canal and Warren County, lay the fundamental issue of Environmental Justice.
What is environmental justice exactly? In Eileen McGurty’s writing on the Origins of the Environmental Justice Movement, “Environmental justice activists argue that the inequitable distribution of environmental degradation and systematic exclusion of the poor and people of color from environmental decision making is perpetuated by traditional environmental organizations, also known as mainstream environmentalism, and by regulatory agencies.” (302) Essentially, Warren County reformed the relationship between conventional environmentalists and the civil rights movement.
In Warren County, African Americans first spoke up on behalf of their community. They believed that they were purposely targeted for being both politically and economically powerless.
Similarly, the residents in Oxnard County that first voiced their concerns were Latino families, for they felt as if they were under environmental attack. After a 1998 study done by the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, it was reported that children who attended schools near the largest outpourings of methyl bromide, one of the most highly used pesticides in California then, had the greatest risk of being exposed to all pesticides (Gross). As one could guess, more than 80 percent of the students affected were children of color, primarily Latino.
The problem of Environmental justice, or lack thereof it, has been around for years and continues to surface in modern day life. Minorities are suffering the affects of environmental attack. The only way to stop the injustice is for the members of the minorities to speak up. Just as the men and women in Warren County fought back, the Oxnard community members, like Dayane Zuñiga must do the same. At the very least, they will attempt to prohibit the use of the most dangerous pesticides near neighborhoods and schools, protecting the lives of adults and children.
Adams, Jill U. “A Closer Look: Pesticides in Strawberry Fields.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 June 2010. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
Gil, Paul. “What Is ‘NIMBY’? What Does This Acronym Mean?” About.com Tech. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
“Methyl Bromide (Bromomethane).” Methyl Bromide (Bromomethane). N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
Moss, Laura. “America’s 10 Worst Man-made Environmental Disasters.” MNN. N.p., 14 June 2010. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
From learning disabilities to autism, diabetes and cancer, a startling number of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise. Children are sicker today than they were a generation ago. http://www.panna.org/human-health-harms/children