California Takes Steps to Ensure Children’s Safety Via Pesticide Application Restrictions

by Cameron St. Germain

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy Name:

DPR 16-004 Pesticide Use Near Schoolsites



Population: 39,250,017 (2016, US Census)


In order to protect children from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, a new law passed by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation bans pesticide application in fields within a quarter-mile of K-12 schools and licensed child day care centers. Growers are prohibited from applying pesticides from 6 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Friday. Additionally, growers are required to provide nearby schools with information on the specific pesticides being used.

Progress to date: N/A

Program/Policy Initiated:

The policy was passed on November 7, 2017 and will go into effect on January 1, 2018.

Food policy category:

Food safety

Program goals:

  • Reduce children’s exposure to potentially harmful pesticides.
  • Make school administrators more aware of the pesticides being used in close proximity to their schools.

How it works:

The regulation bans pesticide use between the hours of 6 AM and 6 PM, Monday through Friday, on fields that are located within one-quarter mile of a K-12 school or licensed day care center. Because wind can carry pesticides beyond their intended targets, several application techniques are covered by the ban, including applications by:

  • Aircraft
  • Sprinklers
  • Air-blast sprayers
  • Fumigants

More localized methods of application may be used, but growers must still maintain a distance of 25 feet from school sites. These methods include:

  • Ground-rig sprayers
  • Field soil injection equipment
  • Drip or flood chemigation equipment

Some other types of pesticides may be allowed as long as they pose no reasonable risk of airborne dissemination.

Growers are required to provide a written notification to principles of K-12 schools and administrators of child day care centers by April 30th of the pesticides that will be used the following school year. The notification must include information on the pesticides that will be used, a map of the area showing the proximity of the school to the fields, the grower’s name and contact information, and the county agricultural commissioner’s contact information.

The law is expected to affect an estimated 4,100 public K-12 schools and licensed day care centers and 2,500 growers.

Why it is important:

A study from the Central University of Venezuela shows that 30-50% of pesticides applied with sprayers are lost to the air. Airborne pesticides can then drift toward populated areas where they are inhaled or absorbed by the skin.

According to the EPA, pesticide drift can be harmful to people, the environment, and other nearby crops. This law specifically focuses on the damage to human health that exposure to pesticides can cause. A variety of pesticides are currently in use, and each carries its own health risks. Some affect the nervous system, while others irritate the skin or eyes. Others disrupt the body’s hormone or endocrine system, and some are known carcinogens. Effects can either be acute or chronic due to ongoing exposure. Information on the health effects of almost 400 types of pesticides can be found here.

The National Pesticide Information Center reports that children are more susceptible to the toxic effects of pesticides than adults. Special care should be taken to minimize children’s exposure to harmful pesticides.


County agricultural commissioners employed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture are responsible for maintaining records of each annual notification and evaluating grower compliance.

Learn more:  

Point of Contact:

California Department of Pesticide Regulation

Similar practices:

New York State and Connecticut have both banned pesticide use on school and day care playgrounds and athletic fields.


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