The origins of Sonoma Pesticide Alert are in Max's personal research, which began in early 1993, into pesticide use in the Northern California Wine Country, where pesticide applications are frequent and routine, and aggressively drift into neighborhood streets and homes. After Max had been working alone for some years to try to awaken people to the dangers of pesticides, Sonoma Pesticide Alert was started formally in 1997 with a neighbor who also recognized the immediate health crisis in their region.
They embarked on a 2 year informal health study of the neighborhood, which helped paint a picture of the local cluster of cancers, thyroid, and other serious health problems, and which resulted in 5 families leaving the area because of pesticide poisoningÿbetween 1999 and 2000. All of those families had been in that neighborhood for a long time, some for over 30 years. Ben Kashkooli, the co-founder of Sonoma Pesticide Alert, is one of many neighbors who have since died. He was only 47 years old. The constant pesticide exposure also increasingly sensitized Max and her two older children, who lived in Sonoma during their first years, so that they can no longer tolerate everyday chemicals which many people regard as "necessities", without getting very ill. Their injuries resulted in Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), a degenerative condition which severely impacts the respiratory, immune, reproductive, and central nervous systems.
In 1998, Sonoma Pesticide Alert participated in 3-1/2 months of air monitoring for a statewide report on pesticide drift (Environmental Working Group Report What You Don't Know Could Hurt You: Toxic Pesticide Drift, 1999, see http://www.ewg.org/reports/cadrift/pr.html).
During that time period, and in 2000, we photodocumented a total of 5 months' worth of pesticide applications. Those photos were instrumental in revealing to people what was happening in the fields and their neighborhood before they awoke in the morning. Some of those photos have been used by other activists and continue to help people understand that spraying by tractor or from a 3-wheeler can be as devastating as the crop dusting (aerial spraying) exhibited in these photographs.
Against a great deal of opposition by the chemical industry, and the local wine industry in particular, Sonoma Pesticide Alert researched, gathered evidence, and made public the types and quantities of toxic chemicals used by various vineyards, the types of health effects associated with each chemical, and the clusters of these health crises found in our own neighborhoods. We organized neighbors into grassroots actions demanding the vineyard owners stop their toxic practices, and take responsibility for the death and severe health problems they are causing throughout the area. We met with agriculture commissioners, independent experts, and local officials, organized protests, and submitted petitions for local government to recognize and remediate the public health crisis under their jurisdiction, rather than profit from it at the expense of the very lives of our families and neighbors, and vineyard workers.
This work intensified in 2000 as the California Department of Food and Agriculture mandated statewide spraying against the Glassy-winged Sharpshooter, and we mobilized Rapid Response Teams to investigate the resulting impact on our communities. During this time we first launched our website (http://www.dontspraycalifornia.org/), and effectively used it to mobilize regionally and statewide, and begin networking with others active in the fight against toxics elsewhere.
For most who worked with us it was a very personal struggle, as people were frequently ill, cancers were being diagnosed, family members buried, as were farm animals and pets, and homes and organic gardens were sprayed without their owners' consent.
In 2000 Max and her children escaped the horrors of wine country, moved to San Leandro, and started East Bay Pesticide Alert. Our work in Sonoma continued as we launched an investigation into the East Bay wine industry, and continued researching chronic effects of pesticides, and networked with other activist groups, including Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, with whom we are united in the ongoing Roadside Spraying Project in response to Caltrans routine dousing of state highways.
Beginning in 2000 East Bay Pesticide Alert began requesting the Environmental Health Department put us on the agenda for the Board of Supervisors' public meetings, to make a presentation about the dangers of toxic pesticide use, myriad alternatives and to demand an end to toxic pesticide use by the county. After many months of unrelenting pressure, in April 2001, East Bay Pesticide Alert members made formal presentations both before the Health Subcommittee of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and the full Board of Supervisors. This led to the county adopting what they thought was going to be sufficient to safeguard people, a formal IPM, Integrated Pesticide Management, ordinance. Unfortunately, as we had suggested IPM would, it resulted in continued, regular pesticide use by the county. While the board's decision appeared to be well-intentioned, its members had not evaluated the 500-pages of carefully-indexed toxicological profiles and related articles and information we had provided to each of them in the weeks prior to our presentations. As a consequence it is now possible to demonstrate that an IPM ordinance has failed the residents, workers, and visitors of Alameda County, and provides a foundation on which we can press for a total ban on toxic pesticides.
In 2005 a proposal was brought before the Oakland City Council, to add yet another exemption to the city's already weak pesticide "ban", rendering it increasingly meaningless. East Bay Pesticide Alert was instrumental in forcing the City of Oakland to comply with the limited laws which protect our environment. We insisted that a proposal such as theirs is subject to CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, until the city attorney admitted that adopting the proposal without conducting an indepth environmental review would put the city at risk or law suits. As this process is currently continuing behind closed doors, and paid analysts are conducting theoretical analyses about how much more risk to our already devastated environment and public health is "acceptable", we are engaged in our own ongoing research to contribute thorough toxicological profiles and independent scientific studies to this review process, to ensure that Oakland's pesticide ban does not get further eroded by chemical industry propaganda masked as "science". The documents we are compiling also include an explicit analysis into the underlying causes of their toxic approach, exposing both city mismanagement of funds and industry misinformation, and we offer viable alternatives and examples of their success.
In 2006 we met with the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District in response to the blind panic over West Nile Virus, and provided them with evidence of the dangers and ineffectiveness of spraying insecticides in response to West Nile Virus, urged them to remove toxic repellants from their recommended methods of protection, and advised them of alternative approaches. We have been sharing this same documentation with activists and officials in other counties, in attempts to halt the spraying of their neighborhoods.
Throughout the history of Sonoma and East Bay Pesticide Alert we have made presentations about the dangers of pesticides upon request or at our suggestion, such as for home gatherings of concerned people, at Girls, Inc., schools, for parents' groups, at city hearings, city council meetings in various cities, board of supervisor meetings in various counties, the Capitol Building and the California Department of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, at community meetings in cities up and down the coast of California, in meetings with the head of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, and more.
We have been publishing and distributing informational literature exposing local dangers, providing contact information of responsible agencies, advocating alternatives, and inviting others to get involved in various ways, including research and public advocacy. When becoming aware of pesticide applications in local areas, we send out pesticide alerts to various media, including online lists and networks. For example, we widely publicized the San Francisco Estuary Spartina Project's aerial spraying, and successfully pressured them to post their spray schedule in accessible formats on their website.
We have also begun to gather documents for a mapping project to demonstrate to the public, media, officials, and other activists, the true extent of pesticide use in the East Bay, particularly by governmental agencies and municipalities.
We have specifically worked with journalists, providing them with data and various research, to help set up media articles about the dangers of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. In the last couple of months alone, we discussed the significance of pesticide poisoning and other chemical injuries in the development of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities with several journalists researching the illness, and shared our own research and some of our personal stories. We have also distributed a great deal of information to doctors over the years, including to individual hospitals such as Sonoma Valley Hospital, as well as to whole hospital systems such as Kaiser and the Sonoma County General Hospital.
As the health of the core of East Bay Pesticide Alert has been deteriorating, especially under the stress of negotiating with stubborn and sometimes callous officials, our goals have slowly shifted from more direct actions to creating an inspiring, empowering, and motivating resource for healthier activists to pick up the work we are too ill to continue ourselves. In that spirit we are redesigning our website to expand its focus from predominantly local actions, to providing information, analysis, and other tools to a larger community. This redesign includes continuous research into all facets of the pesticide issue, including its history of use in war, and its connections to the pharmaceutical industry, its devastating health and environmental effects, the history of resistance by the labor movement and indigenous communities, resources to cope with immediate emergency of exposure, with long-term impacts on health and quality of life, and deeper political implications both locally and internationally. In the hopes of passing on several decades of combined activist experience on this and other human rights issues, we are offering volunteer internships to gain valuable experience in field work involving research into toxics, public health, and environmental justice. We are particularly interested in web designers inspired to help us put our vision into action.
Throughout our history we have done what the government, and many of the larger non-profits, who focus on lobbying, don't take the time to do: We have offered personal support to many people from across the country who contacted us after being injured by pesticides and other toxic chemicals, provided them with relevant resources to help them through the immediate emergency, to support and maintain their health in the context of their resulting disability, to report their injuries, to protect themselves from further injuries, to remediate any toxic living situation, to find support networks where they live, to do further research on their own, and to inspire and empower them into action to make a difference in their areas. We are committed to continuing the one on one interactions necessary to help individuals who suffer from chemical injuries, and to build the foundation for a movement against toxics.
Sonoma Pesticide Alert and now East Bay Pesticide Alert have always acted as a resource for the widest variety of people. We have received phone calls and emails from representatives of municipalities around the country with questions and requests for information they could use in working to ban toxic pesticide use by their municipalities, as well as from university professors and school teachers seeking information which they could use with their students. We have provided information and resources for myriad environmental justice organizations and stand far apart from some well-funded nonprofits in helping people understand the politics behind the chemical industry, as well as exploring the sociological questions of how and why our society has come to accept pesticide use in every facet of our lives, even in the face of evidence that pesticides poison people and that they may themselves one day be personally affected by such chemical injuries.
Our work is specifically aimed at providing essential day-to-day services to individuals and communities affected by pesticides and other toxic chemicals, in the form of resources, research, and other vital information, and local actions to prevent further injuries. The government is not adequately furnishing proper care for those injured, nor information to prevent injury, are in fact actively complicit in keeping vital information secret. Our goal particularly is to provide information identifying the root causes, and to mobilize a movement of activists seeking to make changes at the core of the problem, which we believe lies in the ruthless exploitation of others for profit.
We function as a collective, and are proud to be using an informal Consensus Process, rather than making decisions by a top down hierarchy.