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Pesticides and Childhood Cancer, California, USA


In 1995, a group of McFarland residents, a poor Hispanic community, petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9 (EPA) for assistance in evaluating the community’s environment. After the first case of childhood cancer in 1978, McFarland was deemed a cancer cluster by Kern County in 1985.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Pesticides and Childhood Cancer, California, USA
Country:translation missing: en.countries.united_states_of_america
State or province:California
Location of conflict:McFarland
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Fruits and Vegetables
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

EPA collected 462 soil samples at 30 locations including schools, parks, residences and commercial/industrial areas and tested for more than 200 chemicals. The following chemicals were detected at elevated levels in very localized areas: arsenic, cadmium, lead and benzo(a)pyrene at a former service station; benzo(a)pyrene at a school and one home; dieldrin (a pesticide) at two commercial properties and a park; and dioxins/furans at a school athletic field.

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Project area: 691
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:6,000- 7,500
Relevant government actors:United States Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:United Farmworkers
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Boycotts of companies-products
The community requested an EPA investigation, Cesar Chavez went on a hunger strike against pesticide use and its impacts on farmworkers, he also spear-headed a boycott against grapes in an effort to convince growers to offer collective bargaining and better environmental health for farmworkers in California
Impacts of the project
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths, Other Health impacts, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Development of alternatives:The United Farm Workers aimed to negotiate labor contracts with growers that limited the use of DDT on certain crops.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite several cases of childhood cancer there has not been an official conclusion by the EPA and outside investigations. Therefore, there has not been an remidation of this cancer cluster. Researchers continue to develop theories about the origin of McFarlands childhood cancer cluster.
Sources and Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Stanford Law School Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy Program
[click to view]

1988 Food and Justice Journal distributed by United Farm Workers
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

United States Environmental Protection Agency - McFarland Study Area
[click to view]

United Farm Works - Transcript of Speech from Cesar Chavez
[click to view]

[1] The Grape Travesty
[click to view]

LA Times Article - EPA to study childhood cancer cases in rural McFarland, Calif.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Sara Orvis, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, [email protected]
Last update27/10/2016
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