Vanessa Handy's dad navigated transport planes in Vietnam amid toxic
clouds of Agent Orange, a wartime herbicide linked to certain cancers.
When Handy told her dad that a weed killer routinely used at schools
contained one of the chemicals found in Agent Orange, he replied, "Oh,
that's not good."
Handy started what's grown into an anti-pesticide mission. The Costa
Mesa mother of two convinced Newport-Mesa Unified School District
officials to scrap herbicides in favor of non-toxic alternatives, such
as weed whackers, as a test project last year at Davis Magnet and
Newport Elementary, the schools that Handy's fourth-grader and
Handy, 41, would like to see the pesticide ban spread districtwide.
"I'm just a mom trying to do the right thing," Handy said.
The idea of creating pesticide-free zones at schools may have launched in PTA meetings, but it has made its way into courtrooms.
A lawsuit filed Jan. 22 by environmental groups and parents
challenged the California Department of Food and Agriculture's approval
of a statewide pest management plan that allows pesticide spraying on
schools, organic farms and residential yards. The plaintiffs allege that
the state permits the use of 79 pesticides that cause cancer, birth
defects and reproductive harm.
"This is about routine spraying of toxic herbicides around young
children," said Handy, who isn't party to the suit, as she stood
recently near a sign staked into the ground at Davis Magnet School that
says "Pesticide Free Zone."
"Our children are already so exposed, why would we want to expose them more?"
California Department of Pesticide Regulation oversees schools' use
of weed killers and other chemicals grouped under the umbrella term