Environmental Justice -Clairee Putnam

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.

Pesticide spraying in the strawberry fields of Oxnard, California has raised concerns among environmentalists as well as high school students and teachers. The fields are immediately adjacent to Rio Mesa High School and Oxnard High School where students engage in outside, athletic training including running track and field.

High school Student Dayane Zuniga, standing in front of the strawberry fields. The fields are immediately adjacent to Rio Mesa High School and Oxnard High School where students engage in outside, athletic training including running track and field.

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.

The Spraying of toxic chemicals over farmland.

The Spraying of toxic chemicals over farmland.

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


9 thoughts on “Environmental Justice -Clairee Putnam

  1. Jenna L.

    Very interesting article! You did a great job connecting this issue to that of Love Canal; I was surprised at the similarities between the two. You also did a good job referencing other sources we looked at, like the NIMBY article– it made your post that much stronger. I was also surprised that the farm/whoever was growing the strawberries didn’t seem to care about the potential danger to workers or to students.
    You had a lot of interesting information; for example, I had no idea that the pesticides used on strawberries are some of the most toxic.

    One thing that I have to disagree with is where you said “The only way to stop the injustice is for the members of the minorities to speak up.” This is definitely true in part– the people being affected by lack of environmental justice have to speak up and protest. However, those who aren’t affected can and should fight for equal rights and environmental protection.

  2. Hayley Pettinato

    Really interesting article. I find it bizarre that the school was not at all concerned with the use of pesticides so close to the property, especially since it’s been proven to have adverse health effects. I also like how you connected the issues to Love Canal. This makes me wonder if it’s really all that safe to eat foods with pesticides since farmers wear face masks when spraying them.

  3. Molly Bass Post author

    I agree with Hayley! You would think that the school would take action in order to keep the students safe. I also like that you had multiple references back to Steinberg, which strengthened your blog. The only thing I would have liked to find out is how the school is now dealing with the problem, or if it is still an on going issue. I found a great article if anyone else was thinking the same thing

  4. Nick Rolli Post author

    The first two paragraphs caught my attention immediately. Your images are pretty neat as well. The story about the high school track runner in California was different, but at least the student brought it to the attention of the school. However, the high school should have played more of a role for the safety of their students.

  5. Christina Coronis

    This was great! I especially liked your images, specifically the first one of Dayane Zuniga. I found it powerful and really complimented your piece. It’s interesting in your last paragraph how you say the only way to stop environmental injustice is for the members of the minorities to speak up. I think to go even farther, we should be asking why is this injustice happening in the first place? To leave it up to the people who are being negatively affected by it won’t put in end to injustice once and for all. We must go for the root of the problem, not the branches of it. Overall, awesome blog! I really learned a lot.

  6. Emily B.

    First of all, I love how you introduced your topic of environmental justice with an anecdote I’m sure everyone could relate to in some way. Secondly, I thought your topic had really strong and clear connections to issues we have learned about in class and fluidly transitioned between each subtopic. Lastly, it concerns me that schools can go so long without recognizing an issue harmful to thousands of unknowing students. Great blog

  7. mlongbi101anselm

    Strong connection to several studies conducted in class. I still can’t fathom how DDT was banned but fertilizers that require face masks during application are permitted. In my mind, I drew a connection to the problems with water purity we read about in class. (Where people were dying from consuming water from fountains) I guess the government doesn’t have a problem with harming us so long as not may people are aware and draw attention to it.

  8. Sarah Bartlett

    Clairee, your article was very informing and also very alarming. It is scary how toxic pesticides can be. It is no wonder that so many people nowadays are getting diagnosed with cancer and other debilitating diseases. The fact that farmers have to wear facemasks while working in the fields with the chemicals really shows that there is no way that they can be even somewhat safe to the humans that eat the strawberries. It is also scary that as Americans we do not have to be informed of this. I feel like events such as this one you talked about in Oxnard County are pushed to the side and downplayed when in fact they are extremely important and people really should have the right to know what chemicals are in the air, food and water around them.

  9. Sarah McVann Post author

    This was really well written and grabbed my attention right away. It was concerning to read though,thinking that the strawberries we eat are being sprayed with a mixture of toxic chemicals. The fact that the farmers had to be wearing masks when spraying/ farming is enough to show how wrong this is. You connected this topic very well to ones we discussed in class.


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