Back to School brings concerns about pesticide exposure

Back to School brings concerns about pesticide exposure

By Megan Kaun and Nichole Warwick

We live in a beautiful region with idyllic farms and open space. We are a Right to Farm County so we accept the inconveniences from farm operations; strong smells, bright lights, loud noises, etc. It’s a small price to pay to live in an rural community. However, being exposed to toxic chemicals from pesticide drift at our homes and schools is an entirely different matter.

New information about agricultural pesticide near schools use has been released by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) for ~100 public schools and preschools in Sonoma County. This data shows us that many toxic pesticides are being used in very close proximity to schools. It also provides an opportunity to engage in an informed conversation with schools and farmers.

Vineyards dominate agriculture near schools, and the vast majority (98{5fc40a96f14c4a6aa4c2a32569b0a57dcc67c0b31eb04c341474283f11b6cdd2}[1]) of Sonoma County vineyard land is managed using synthetic pesticides. Though the Sonoma County Winegrowers Association has a goal to certify all vineyards “Sonoma Sustainable” by 2019[2], certification does not require vineyards to reduce pesticide use[3].

Pesticides, including weed killers (herbicides), insecticides, and fungicides[4] are used commonly by farms in Sonoma County. Synthetic or man-made pesticides are long-lasting toxicants in the environment and are linked to many human health problems[5]. Though the top five pesticides applied in our county are sulfur, mineral oil, and adjuvants/surfactants, enough “Bad Actor” pesticides are being used to warrant concern. The Pesticide Action Network’s “Bad Actor” pesticides are chemicals that should never be used near kids: known carcinogens, reproductive or developmental toxicants, and neurotoxins[6].

The most commonly-used herbicide in Sonoma County is glyphosate, a synthetic weed killer found in products like RoundUp. The World Health Organization has stated that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans[7], especially non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma[8].


Children are particularly vulnerable[9] to the impacts of toxic exposure, including lower IQs, birth defects, developmental delays, Autism, ADHD, and cancer[10]. Immediate effects of pesticide exposure can mimic allergies or viral/bacterial infections and include headaches, difficulty breathing, dizziness or confusion, unusual behaviors and sensory sensitivities.[11]


It’s worrisome that Sonoma County has the 3rd highest childhood cancer rate of California’s 58 counties, according to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. (Humboldt is 1st, Solano is 2nd, and Sonoma is tied with Napa for 3rd.)[12]


New 2018 CDPR state regulations[13] protect children at schools by prohibiting fumigants and sprayed pesticides within 1/4 mile of a school during school hours. Farmers must also disclose to schools which pesticides may be used during the year. These rules fall short in protecting children from exposures outside school hours and from pesticide drift beyond ¼ mile.

Pesticides applied to crops, especially sprayed pesticides can drift 1 mile or more[14]. Research has shown that 95-98{5fc40a96f14c4a6aa4c2a32569b0a57dcc67c0b31eb04c341474283f11b6cdd2} of applied pesticides can miss their intended mark. Drifting pesticides are often invisible, odorless, and can be present for weeks or months[15].

Though farms and schools are not required to tell families what pesticides may be used near their school sites we think you have a right to know. The new data has been made available at the website below:


Sonoma County Conservation Action launched its campaign for a Toxic Free Future last year to get pesticides out of public spaces. Since then, Santa Rosa City Schools has stopped using synthetic weed-killers, and Santa Rosa, Windsor, and County of Sonoma Agencies have made strides to decrease pesticide use. With new school buffer zone rules and increased awareness around the dangers of pesticide drift, it’s time to start reducing pesticide use around schools where our children may be exposed.




[4] Accessed July 17, 2018.


[6] Accessed July 19, 2018.




[10] Accessed July 19 2018.

[11] Accessed July 18, 2018.

[12], a program of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. Childhood Cancer Diagnoses accessed March 8 2017.Click here for article.


[14] Cox, C. 1995. Indiscriminately from the skies. Journal of Pesticide Reform 15(1):2-6.




Megan Kaun


Nichole Warwick,






Megan Kaun is an Environmental Engineer with experience in water resources, environmental modeling, and remediation. She spearheaded SCCA’s Toxic Free Future campaign and serves on its board.  

Megan’s research on pesticide use in public spaces helped spearhead SCCA’s Toxic Free Future campaign. Through her work as vice-chair of Santa Rosa’s Board of Public Utilities (2013-2017), background in environmental remediation, and passion for keeping toxics away from kids, she has become a local leader in public landscape maintenance policy. Megan was born and raised in Sonoma County but spent her early career working as a hydraulic engineer/hydrologist on stream restoration and dredged material reuse projects for the Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago and San Francisco. She holds engineering degrees from Northwestern and Stanford.

Nichole Warwick, MA, is the Founding Executive Director of Families Advocating for Chemical & Toxics Safety (FACTS), the Environmental Health Program Manager for Daily Acts, a Board of Director Member and Secretary for Ceres Community Project, and a Person-Centered Expressive Arts Educator/Educational Therapist for the Reach Charter School.

Nichole is a mother, educator, and environmental health advocate. She has been working with youth and families for over 22 years in the fields of education and psychology. After a breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, Nichole was shocked to learn about the many environmental factors that contribute to environmental diseases such as cancers. In an effort to better understand the problems and protect herself, her children, and her students, she dove deep into research in environmental health. She now devotes herself to ensuring children grow up in safe and healthy environments.

Nichole is an award-winning educator and accomplished expressive arts facilitator with expertise in youth leadership and development. She works as a Person-Centered Expressive Arts Facilitator/Educator and Environmental Health Advocate. She works with The REACH Charter SchoolBioneers Collective Heritage InstituteJonas Family Fund & Daily Acts. She also serves on the Ceres Community Project’s Board of Directors as Secretary, Governance Committee Member, and Youth Development Committee Chair. Nichole absolutely loves being with youth in nature and helping cultivate the ecology of their imaginations!