One Mom's Story About Pesticide Drift Near Schools
Our friends at Earthjustice recently shared the story of Cindy Dominguez and her family with us.
Cindy's story, and the stories of many like her, inspired MomsRising to sign on to a petition from Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice to the Environmental Protection Agency calling for commonsense safety standards protecting children who grow up near farms from the harmful effects of pesticide drift.
Here is Cindy's story:
Apple orchards are everywhere in Cindy Dominguez’s town in eastern Washington. The trees, nestled against schools and homes, bring more than apples though: they also bring pesticide sprayers. Cindy frequently warned her children to stay far away from the pesticides sprayed in their town. But those warnings were the last thing on Cindy’s mind nine years ago, when a frightening call forced her to rush over to her daughter Elena’s middle school.
“I got a call towards the end of the day from the school that Elena wasn't feeling well,” says Cindy. "When I got there, I started to panic: she was in a serious stupor, eyes rolling back in her head, she could barely stand.”“ Elena was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors informed Cindy that her daughter’s heart rate had raced to 117. After a battery of tests, her heart rate eventually slowed and they released her from the hospital, not knowing what had brought on the episode, but assuming it was due to dehydration. Ten days later, Elena’s collapsed after a track meet and was raced to the hospital. The doctors chalked it up to dehydration, but Cindy worried that something else was causing Elena’s symptoms.
One day, while discussing the incident with her husband, a doctor, a thought crossed her mind: What if Elena’s recent health scare was due to pesticides? Cindy had attended a PTA meeting where parents were talking about pesticides drifting onto playground equipment. She contacted her Department of Agriculture and they sent investigators who tested Elena’s gym clothes and found several orchard-grade pesticides. They went to the PE and track field and found traces of these same pesticides (endosulfan, a DDT-like pesticide banned in many countries). Investigators determined that Elena had most likely been poisoned after absorbing pesticides through her skin.
“I was relieved to finally get an answer,” Cindy says. “Knowing what had happened, I felt better able to protect my family. Spring would come and I would educate my kids, warn them to stay indoors during spraying season. But my neighbors’ kids were still out there, my friend’s kids were still out there. There was something inside me that said, ‘I have to do something. This is so wrong. Children are playing in drift zones.”
But in Cindy’s community, the money comes from agriculture. “You're going after the bread and butter of this area when you say, ‘I'm going to fight this,” Cindy says. “But I wanted the district to write a policy to say how they planned to protect school children from pesticide drift. I wrote to the principal, the superintendent, went to the PTA. I didn’t get anywhere. I took the district to court, asking them to adopt a policy.”
Once their insurance company got wind of the lawsuit, they urged the district to settle. Now, thanks to Cindy’s hard work, the orchard must inform the school district about upcoming pesticide applications. “It’s not perfect,” Cindy says. “We don’t have a buffer zone and the district doesn’t do anything pro-active to keep kids off the playground during the springtime.”
We can’t let another growing season go by without protecting our children from pesticides. Cindy Dominguez took action to protect her kids, and you can too! Visit Pesticide Action Network to learn more about the dangers of pesticide drift, and Earthjustice to tell officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency it’s time to adopt no-spray pesticide buffer zones around homes, schools, parks and daycare centers.