In California, Latino schoolchildren are exposed to pesticides at rates much higher than their white counterparts. Many schools in California’s farm country are located literally across the street from fields where industry routinely sprays dangerous pesticides, leading to immediate health issues and poor air quality.
During the mid-1990’s, the Garcia family noticed this disparity and became concerned that their childrens’ school was far too close to these poisonous pesticides. Of particular concern was the controversial pesticide methyl bromide which has been linked to everything from nervous system damage to lung disease to increased risk of cancer among men. The Garcia’s filed a formal complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which protects all citizens from racial discrimination by the government or a government funded organization – in this case the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Despite the harsh real world ramifications of the Garcia’s complaint, it sat on the EPA’s desk for a whopping 12 years! In 2011 it was finally settled behind closed doors and without the involvement of the Garcia’s or any impacted communities. The EPA agreed that Latino schoolchildren were being racially discriminated against and exposed to pesticides at unacceptable rates, but chose to quietly settle with the local regulators, providing no real changes to the system that failed the Garcia’s or closure to any of the families affected. This is a clear case of dirty insider business, where the needs of the community aren't considered and the industry’s interests are considered the best course of action.
Today, 14 years later, the high school aged son in the original complaint now has two children who will soon attend the same impacted school. “I will keep fighting for my family,” said Maria Garcia, the mother and grandmother in the case, as the lawsuit was filed by CRPE and our allies. And we too will keep fighting with the Garcia family for the justice they deserve and their community needs.
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