Los Angeles – The decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to admit that there was discrimination against Latino students in California by exposing them to pesticides brings to an end more than a decade of court battling.
"That 12 years of litigation have passed to get to this conclusion shows that the government's environmental agencies don't care about the health of students in rural schools because they're Latinos and because they're poor," Erik Nicholson, the vice president of the United Farm Workers union, told Efe.
The EPA said the decision was the result of a legal complaint filed by several organizations in 1999 against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, or CDPR.
The complaint was based on the fact that the EPA agreed with the CDPR to increase the program to measure concentrations of pesticides in the air in rural areas where schools are located.
The resolution makes effective the EPA regulation related to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination by institutions that utilize federal funds.
The CDPR receives money from the EPA.
"All this time the children who have studied in rural schools have been absorbing those poisons, of which methyl bromide was already discontinued, and now another worse one is used which is methyl iodide (and which) we also want them to stop using," Nicholson said.
"This is occurring due to the arrogance of the agricultural industry which doesn't care about the wellbeing of the workers and their families and doesn't care that people keep dying due to lack of shade and lack of water in the camps during the summer," he said.
The EPA found that methyl bromide was used between 1995 and 2001 in areas where there were high percentages of Hispanics in the schools.
EPA spokesperson Mary Simms told Efe that the official response of her agency means that the "administrator, Lisa Jackson, has focused on ... all the cases related to Title VI to seek a solution to those problems affecting the lives of the people."
Currently the CDPR, via the accord with the EPA, has agreed to expand a program to measure the concentrations of methyl bromide that have remained in the ground and the aquifer layers in the areas indicated in the suit that include the Watsonville zone, where there are six schools in which the majority of the students are Latinos.
Brett McFadden, chief business officer for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, which includes Watsonville, told Efe that his school jurisdiction is hailing the EPA resolution.
"The school district is happy that the state officials will increase the checking of pesticides around the schools of Pajaro Valley," McFadden said.
"Many of our schools were built many years ago in agricultural areas. Additional data and information will be useful in protecting the interests and the safety of the students and the school personnel," he said.