The Central Coast’s Environmental Defense Center (EDC) received a $198,000 grant from the California Endowment two weeks ago to continue to educate the farmworker population in Santa Barbara County about the risks associated with working with pesticides.
The $198,000 grant will be paid over the next three years and will be used to fund the EDC’s Central Coast Environmental Health Project (CCEHP).
CCEHP is an outreach program created in 1998 that is dedicated to educating communities about the health risks associated with pesticide use. The organization’s main focus is to educate the farmworker population in Santa Barbara County about pesticide risks and alternatives. The program specifically serves indigenous farmworkers from Latin America who speak languages native to that region, many of whom belong to Mixtec and Zapotec communities.
“We cannot think of a more under-served group of individuals than that of indigenous farmworkers,” said CCEHP Director Eric Cardenas.
Cardenas said little is known about the actual number of indigenous farmworkers that live and work in Santa Barbara County. He said in Ventura alone, the estimated population ranges from 5,000 to 20,000.
“Nobody knows actually how many indigenous farmworkers are in this county,” Cardenas said.
Part of the grant money will be used to conduct an assessment of the indigenous farmworker population in order to obtain an accurate number. The assessment will also serve to pinpoint those communities who need pesticide prevention education the most.
Cardenas estimates that approximately 90 percent of the indigenous farmworkers are concentrated in northern Santa Barbara County. CCEHP currently operates out of Santa Barbara, but because the majority of the indigenous farmworker population is concentrated in North County, a portion of the grant money will be used to open a CCEHP satellite office in Santa Maria.
“If you are going to be working with farmworkers, and farmworkers are found in North County, it is only logical to be located there,” Cardenas said.
The outreach program shows workers how to protect themselves against harmful pesticides such as methyl bromide, a fumigant that is used to sterilize soil and is primarily used on strawberries.
According to its website, the Environmental Protection Agency labels methyl bromide as a reproductive toxin and as a destructive agent to the ozone layer. Other crops that are grown in Santa Barbara County, such as broccoli, lettuce and wine grapes, also use strong pesticides that are potentially harmful to those who harvest them.
The CCEHP has recently pushed the city of Santa Barbara to adopt an integrated pest management policy that specifically eliminates pesticide usage from city property such as parks and schools.
“We finally got the city to agree to reduce their pesticide usage,” Cardenas said. “The fact that CCEHP continues to be so successful on so many fronts demonstrates the effectiveness of education on this important subject.”