Studying Pesticide Exposure
Graduate student wins award for research on pesticide application in farmworker communities
May 23, 2017
In Ventura County, some neighborhoods back up to hillsides of oak trees and scrub. Residents of other neighborhoods, however, aren’t so fortunate, with homes next to farm fields sprayed with heavy doses of pesticides.
It’s possible to limit that pesticide application, but stakeholders are often constrained in their efforts to do so. Kaitlyn Alvarez Noli, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Planning, Policy and Design, was recently awarded a $20,000 Haynes Lindley Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship to uncover why.
Alvarez Noli first realized the disparity between places like her childhood neighborhood near Wildwood Canyon Park and others adjacent to farm fields when she was an undergraduate student in international studies at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. By the time she graduated, she was recruiting people from farmworker communities in the Oxnard area for surveys and helping with community-academic collaborations.
As a master’s student in global studies at UC Santa Barbara, Alvarez Noli continued her work in Oxnard. Now, in the fourth year of her doctoral program at UCI’s School of Social Ecology, she is conducting her dissertation research on pesticide use in Ventura County. Her advisors are Assistant Professor Maria Rendon and Professor Martha Feldman.
She’s conducting participant observations and in-depth qualitative interviews with regulators, farm workers, growers, advocates and community organizers to see how their perceptions about pesticides shape their actions. She seeks to uncover the mechanisms that enable or constrain actions to protect health.
Alvarez Noli’s research focuses in particular on the attitudes and everyday practices of government regulators, who must ensure both the health of farm workers and the business viability of growers.
The two priorities can sometimes seem to compete, and regulators have to strike a balance between the two sides. “There are very, very polarized views of whether pesticide use or exposure is even a public health concern,” says Alvarez Noli, who plans to graduate in 2019.