Environmental conditions

San Joaquin Valley, CA
United States

University of California, Irvine School of Law's Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources
Social media handle(s)
@CAPestReform (Facebook,Twitter)

Investigated the disproportionate impacts of pesticide exposure in agricultural communities by building the capacity of local organizations in the San Joaquin Valley to advocate for policy change.

Farmworkers in California—the vast majority of whom are Latinx, Spanish-speaking, and immigrants—face disproportionate harm from exposure to pesticides. Agricultural communities have suffered from a lack of occupational protections and a system that focuses on preventing harm to consumers rather than harm to workers. Despite recent state-level policies to advance environmental justice, existing laws are difficult to enforce; state agencies lack the ability to comply with civil rights laws; public data are underutilized; and state agencies have not involved agricultural communities in the development of policies to advance equity.

Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) has worked with community-based organizations in the San Joaquin Valley for more than 25 years on issues related to environmental justice, and through this project sought to build their partners’ capacity to use data to advocate for policies that will reduce pesticide exposure in their communities. CPR partnered with the University of California, Irvine School of Law’s Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources (CLEANR) to conduct legal research, interviews, and focus groups to better understand how state civil rights law, civil rights compliance metrics, and changes to state environmental review and other laws can be used to pursue policies and changes that will reduce pesticide exposure.

The CLEANR project team of faculty and research staff carried out legal research, which included investigating elements of legal theories that can be used to make claims under state civil rights law to reduce pesticide exposure. Next, they conducted 20 key informant interviews with people who have been impacted by pesticide exposure, leading scientists, and grassroots organizers and advocates. Four focus groups were also conducted in Spanish within agricultural communities in the Central Valley to gain a deeper understanding of how pesticide exposure has caused harm to people in rural California communities.

CPR and CLEANR are collaborating to analyze their findings and to identify promising legal theories to make claims under state civil rights laws, advocate for new civil rights compliance metrics for pesticide regulatory programs, and promote changes to existing rules to improve regulatory enforcement.

Through this project, CPR and its network of partners are identifying new strategies and advocacy goals that will support their organizing efforts to reduce pesticide exposure. CPR and CLEANR will present findings and ideas for action at a public People’s Tribunal with the goal to galvanize community support and to advocate for state agencies to take action. Key audiences for the People’s Tribunal include California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation and other state agencies, local agricultural and public health officials, and community organizations in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Another outcome of this project is that the CLEANR team leveraged what they learned from this project to create a Community Environmental Research Accelerator program, a new permanent fixture at the University of California, Irvine. Modeled on their partnership with CPR, the new accelerator program will select one underfunded environmental justice topic to work on each year, engage key stakeholders in research and problem-solving, and engage funders about their roles in supporting environmental justice projects.