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Advocates ask California to ban cancer-causing pesticide Talon

Telone, also called 13D, has been used in California for decades, but advocates say the pesticide may be responsible for illnesses, including cancers, among farmworkers.
California agriculture
Posted at 3:44 PM, Feb 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-28 13:58:38-05

SHAFTER, Calif. (KERO) — Anyone who grows crops can tell you pesticides are needed to keep bugs and other diseases from killing the plants, but at what risk? That's the question that California farmworker advocates are asking as Telone, a pesticide linked to health issues, including cancer, continues to be used.

Guadalupe Lopez has been living in Kern County for the past 25 years. A majority of that time, she's lived on agricultural fields set aside for farmworkers. Lopez explains that because they lived on the field, when pesticides were sprayed on the property, the smell penetrated her home despite her efforts to keep her windows and doors shut.

Guadalupe Lopez
Guadalupe Lopez

Lopez says in 2018, after various medical tests and visits, the doctors told her she had cancer.

Although Lopez says there is no way for her doctors to pinpoint her cancer diagnosis to pesticides, now knowing more about the pesticides being used, she believes it had to be due to that exposure.

Lopez is not alone in this diagnosis.

"Because 13D exposure has been linked to potential risks for cancer and immediate short-term health impacts, the department requires restrictions to prevent people from being exposed," said Leia Bailey, spokesperson for California's Department of Pesticide Regulation

Bailey goes on to explain that 13D, which is also known as the chemical Telone, is one of the most frequently used agricultural pesticides in California.

The Telone pesticide has been used for decades. In 2017, new regulations for its use were rolled out, but advocates were not content with the extent of the regulations. In 2021, advocate groups sued, and the court ordered DPR to reassess the regulations once again.

That reassessment, which has been ongoing through multiple periods of public comment, has led the process to where it stands now.

"Right now, the department is reviewing all public comments to inform of any potential changes to the regulation," said Bailey.

Those public comments the department is reviewing, like those from Guadalupe Lopez, call for them to ban Telone completely, and Lopez' concern is not just for the farmworkers.

Lopez points out that the fields in Shafter are just feet away from the homes. She's concerned about the chemicals affecting the health of not just farmworkers, but everyone who lives in agricultural communities.

According to Bailey, concerns like Lopez' are being addressed by the proposed legislation.

"The proposed regulation will reduce potential lifetime exposure to 13D to at or below .35 parts per billion, a level well below the department's target of .56 parts per billion, and accordingly, will reduce cancer risks," said Bailey.

On the other side, the advocates' main argument is that the department's proposed limit of .35 parts per billion is still higher than .04 parts per billion, which is what the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the agency that monitors health risks from environmental chemical contaminants, has recommended as the safe level.

Bailey explains that DPR and OEHHA have two different purposes as agencies.

"The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment's prop 65 program, provides information to people in California regarding their potential exposure to 13d, but is not responsible for controlling or limiting the use of this pesticide," said Bailey.

She adds that the new regulation does include more limits.

"The department's new proposed restrictions require the use of specialized tarps or other application methods that prevent 13D from driving away from the field," said Bailey, adding that the proposed regulations would also require applications to take place at greater distances from occupied buildings, limit the amount of pesticide that can be applied, and limit the size of field to which the pesticide can be applied.

But the issue for many advocates still lies in the use of Telone and the exposure risks for farmworkers. Lopez says her experience has changed her life, which is why she wants to keep sharing her story. She hopes others will join in the fight against a pesticide that's hurting families like hers and entire communities that are exposed to pesticides.

23ABC asked if there were any alternative pesticides to 13D on the market. DPR says they have not found any, but continue to look for them. The proposed regulation for 13D/Telone is set to go into effect in January, 2024.