Minnesotans Face Frequent Exposure from Pesticide Drift
A report released on May 17 indicates that Central Minnesota communities face frequent exposure to multiple pesticides in the air they breathe, and residents are calling for stronger protections from one common potato fungicide.
Pesticide Drift Monitoring in Minnesota, authored by Pesticide Action Network (PAN), is the result of a community-led air monitoring study conducted by a group of concerned Minnesotans. Residents found the fungicide chlorothalonil present in 64 percent of air samples taken near their homes. Current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules do not consider the health effects of breathing chlorothalonil.
“This on-the-ground monitoring documents the fact that many Minnesotans are regularly exposed to pesticides in the air they breathe,” said Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “State and federal officials should act on these results by providing greater health protections for rural residents, and more carefully considering the science around inhalation effects. Even at low levels, airborne pesticides can raise serious health concerns.”
Regulations for chlorothalonil were set by EPA using studies based on ingesting the chemical, even though the agency considers chlorothalonil ingestion to be “slightly toxic to non-toxic” when ingested and “highly toxic or acutely toxic” when inhaled. In March, EPA began a new review of chlorothalonil, which will include inhalation studies.
“Living near potato fields, I’ve frequently been exposed to pesticide drift in the last 15 years or so,” said Park Rapids resident Carol Ashley, member of Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness. “One type of pesticide—chlorothalonil—wipes me out so that I can barely move for days. I have to struggle to breathe.”
Chlorothalonil is classified by EPA as a “probable” carcinogen. Along with cancer, other probable health impacts from exposure include immunological reactions in the airways and skin, pneumonia and kidney failure.
Residents formed Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness in 2006 after observing health problems in communities living near potato fields. The group set out to learn more about the potential harms of pesticide drift. Later, the group connected with members of the White Earth Tribal Nation living near potato fields, who were also observing health problems.
Potato fields cover roughly 50,000 acres of Minnesota. Fungicides are applied to a significant majority of those potato acres—98 percent in 2005. Chlorothalonil is the most commonly used fungicide, applied to 83 percent of the state’s potato fields.
Members of the citizen group approached PAN to use their Drift Catcher tool to monitor pesticides drifting from nearby fields. PAN invented the Drift Catcher to address a void in the science around pesticide exposure. A simple, inexpensive and scientifically robust device, the Drift Catcher is used by community members to collect air samples which can then be analyzed for pesticides, enabling concerned citizens to document otherwise invisible chemical exposures.
A total of 340 field samples were taken in 19 locations in communities throughout Central Minnesota. Evidence of one or more pesticides was found in 64 percent of the samples, and pesticides were detected in all but two sites.
“Minnesotans have a right to know what’s in the air, what their families are breathing,” said Norma Smith, resident of Frazee, member of Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness and one of the air monitoring participants. “The Drift Catcher results are evidence that pesticides are drifting and ending up in our yards, homes and farms. EPA and the Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture have a responsibility to stand up for the health and well-being of families like ours.”
Air monitoring participants are hopeful that environmental and public health officials will use these results as evidence of widespread pesticide exposure, and consider additional steps to safeguard all Minnesotans.
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By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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