Pesticide Watch

On the Ground with Pesticide Watch

by Deborah Rich

People call Pesticide Watch because they’re upset. “They’re distraught, scared, mad,” says Elizabeth Martin-Craig, Northern California community organizer for Pesticide Watch. “Maybe they’ve experienced a reaction to a pesticide, or maybe one of their loved ones has.”

Pesticide Watch helps callers channel their fear and frustration into positive change. “We go into their homes and neighborhoods, get a handle on the scope of the problem, then work with them to break the problem down into components that can be addressed,” says Martin-Craig.

Particularly important is helping clients analyze the power structure influencing their situation, and strategize how to align the interests of those in power with their own. In many cases, the pesticides affecting callers are being used legally, so eliminating their use requires buy-in from individuals who can affect the situation. “If the person with decision-making authority has an asthmatic child,” says Martin-Craig, “that’s a house-card we might play. Or maybe the authority figure responds well to a show of people power, and we’ll help the client develop a signature or call campaign. Maybe correcting the problem offers the person in power the chance to be a hero and garner positive press.”

Established in 1991, Pesticide Watch is a statewide non-profit. While Pesticide Watch collaborates with Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), Californians for Pesticide Reform and other organizations on statewide campaigns like the effort to stop the authorization of methyl iodide use, Pesticide Watch’s particular niche is on the ground: working in people’s homes, helping them figure out what steps are necessary to correct a pesticide problem, and empowering individuals to take those steps.

Martin-Craig recently responded to a call from a group of low income tenants in Contra Costa County who are dealing with an infestation of bedbugs in their housing. Because bedbugs are not disease vectors, the landlords are claiming that they don’t bear responsibility for eliminating the pest. Martin-Craig has brought together the tenants, the county housing authority, a county Integrated Pest Management coordinator, Bay Area Legal Aid, representatives from county social services, pesticide applicators who specialize in non-toxic treatments, and several local nonprofits such as the Monument Community Partnership and the Michael Chavez Center. This larger working group has formed several subcommittees to tackle specific aspects of the problem.

Pesticide Watch’s goals for the next two to three years include expanding their reach through additional staff, funding, coalition work, and upgrading their online presence. “We’re constantly working to get the word out that we’re here and can help,” says Martin-Craig.

Pesticide Watch is 60% membership funded, with the balance of its funds coming from grants. Pesticide Watch does not accept any corporate or government grants. And though it encourages everyone it works with to become members, Pesticide Watch does not turn anyone away based upon ability to pay. “We think that all who call us deserve help,” says Martin-Craig.

For more information, or if you have a pesticide concern, contact Pesticide Watch at:

369 Broadway, Suite 200
San Francisco, CA 94133

Deborah Rich, freelance journalist and olive grower in Monterey County, California.