Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 28, 2015

Contacts:  Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466,
Nan Wishner, California Environmental Health Initiative, (530) 467-3069,
Amy Trainer, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, (415) 306-6052,
Debbie Friedman, MOMS Advocating Sustainability, (415) 608-8317,

Groups Seek to Force Public Disclosure of California Pesticide Spray Risks

Broad Statewide Program Allows Spraying Over Schools, Neighborhoods, Organic Farms

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Eleven groups and the city of Berkeley have filed a lawsuit and preliminary injuction to force the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to publicly disclose and analyze any pesticide spraying it conducts that poses risks to people, wildlife and the environment. The groups filed the motion last week as CDFA began spraying residential neighborhoods in Sacramento with three pesticides (carbaryl, cyfluthrin and imidacloprid) that are linked to cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and are extremely toxic to bees. The spraying, aimed at killing Japanese beetles, has been conducted numerous times in same area since the 1980s. The state agency has refused to use alternative non-toxic treatments for the beetle recommended by the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture, claiming that the ongoing use of hazardous pesticides is necessary to “eradicate” the insect.

“The public has a right to know when dangerous pesticides that threaten our wildlife and water supplies are being sprayed and we need full transparency and disclosure from our public agencies about the true risks of these pesticides,” said Jonathan Evans, Environmental Health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Clearly, the agency is not eradicating this beetle, which has continued to reappear in these same locations for decades despite repeated state spraying.  Moreover, under the state’s plan, communities have no say about the treatments forced on them by the state – in this case creating a chronic exposure for residents of these neighborhoods. It’s time for the state to take a more progressive, non-toxic approach to pest management,” said Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative.

Under the agency's Statewide Plant Pest Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), the California Department of Food and Agriculture can make decisions behind closed doors to carry out spray projects like those currently under way in Sacramento. The agency’s failure to make public its analysis of local health and environmental impacts conflicts with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires disclosure of the impacts of any activity that can harm human and environmental health. The injunction being sought asks the court to order the agency to comply with this fundamental requirement of CEQA.

“The PEIR allows CDFA to spray pesticides anywhere in the state, any time, into the indefinite future with no opportunity for affected communities. This broad license to spray these hazardous chemicals in our yards and gardens threatens the health of children, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals,” said Debbie Friedman of Moms Advocating Sustainability.

The PEIR grants CDFA broad authority to spray pesticides on schools, organic farms and residential yards, including aerial spraying over homes in rural areas, all without full notice and disclosure to the public of potential harms. The agency approved the program despite tens of thousands of public comment letters calling for a less toxic approach that would protect the vitality and resilience of the state’s food system and the economic interests of organic farmers.

“The state’s spraying of toxic chemicals in our neighborhoods, over our waterways, and on our organic farms without opportunity for affected communities to have a voice in or stop state pesticide treatments is an egregious violation of environmental protection laws. We are seeking this injunction to stop this outrageous practice,” said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin.

CDFA has given conflicting information about whether the Sacramento beetle spraying is being carried out under the auspices of the PEIR or under an “emergency” declaration. An emergency declaration enables the agency to bypass environmental analysis under CEQA. Because the PEIR contains CDFA’s CEQA analysis for the Japanese beetle program and because spraying for the beetle has been ongoing in these neighborhoods for decades, it is not clear how the agency could call the spraying an emergency or why CDFA would not rely on the PEIR’s analysis of environmental impacts in this situation. Courts have in the past ruled that ongoing pesticide treatments do not constitute emergencies and require environmental impact analyses.

“The PEIR’s analysis of the impacts of the state’s pesticide spraying on waterways is woefully inadequate, and pesticide overspray and runoff from one of the spray areas may enter storm drains that flow directly, untreated, to the American River.  The pesticides being used are toxic to aquatic life. Therefore, whether or not the agency is relying on the PEIR in this case, there is a serious question about whether environmental impacts have been adequately addressed,” said Jason Flanders of ATA Law Group, attorney for several of the plaintiff groups.

The groups filing the injunction request also seek the increased use of less-toxic and organic pest control methods. For the Japanese beetle, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends nontoxic alternatives such as predator insects and worms (nematodes), products made from the milky spore fungus, traps and neem oil. The USDA notes that the recommended biological control agents “last longer in the environment. More importantly, they do not adversely affect non-target or potentially beneficial organisms.” The Japanese beetle targets lawn turf and ornamentals and some agricultural crops including grapes, cherries, peaches, plums and apples. 

The lawsuit and preliminary injunction request were filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Working Group, California Environmental Health Initiative, MOMS Advocating Sustainability, Center for Food Safety, City of Berkeley, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, Beyond Pesticides, Californians for Pesticide Reform, and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment. The plaintiffs are represented by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter, and Hampton, along with ATA Law Group.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

California Environmental Health Initiative works to bring citizen advocacy and scientific research to expanding awareness that protecting human and environmental health must be the first priority in all food and agricultural decisions.

Environmental Action Committee of West Marin is a grassroots environmental advocacy organization based in Point Reyes that protects the environmental quality, biodiversity and rural character of western Marin County.

MOMS Advocating Sustainability is a Bay Area based organization committed to creating healthy communities for children by reducing their exposure to household and environmental toxins.

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