Can childhood illnesses be linked to pesticides? That's what a national study released Tuesday claims, and local advocates say it's happening in Kern County.
Autism, cancer, and asthma are just some of the illnesses the study claims are on the rise nationwide because of pesticides.
But, local farmers say the study, conducted by the Pesticide Action Network, doesn't reflect what farmers are doing to protect people in Kern County.
"It's a big problem. I think that 90 percent of everything that's got to do with these illnesses has got to do with pesticides," said Ruth Martinez, a retired nurse from Tulare County.
She says she knows, firsthand, the negative effects of pesticides.
"My daughter was born with all her female organs gone and only one kidney," said Martinez, who attributes her late daughter's illness to her home's proximity to farms.
"My house was right in the middle of the grape fields, and we were sprayed every night with pesticides," said Martinez.
Valerie Gorospe said she also lived across from grape fields growing up and personally saw the effects of pesticides.
"On my particular street I grew up, in just the one part of the street, there are many cases of cancer, cases of reproductive health issues, and my brother was diagnosed with autism when he was a toddler," said Gorospe, Community Organizer, Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment.
Other Central Valley residents shared stories like these as they released the results of this study that claims pesticides are to blame for increases in childhood illnesses.
"We are seeing that there is an increase in autism, in asthma, cancer," said Martinez.
Kern County farmers disagree with the results of the study conducted by the Pesticide Action Network of North America.
"They are a leftist activist group, and from what I've seen the science in here isn't peer reviewed," said Ben McFarland, Executive Director of the Kern County Farm Bureau.
The report gathered data from the entire nation. Farmers said Kern County can't be lumped in with the rest of the country because it said it has the strictest pesticide policies in the U.S.
"Here in Kern County, we are very proactive on this issue, and you can see that with the statistics," said McFarland.
The Bureau claims since 2002, Kern County farmers have decreased the use of restrictive pesticides by 67 percent.
"We've already shown in Kern County that we can be the poster boy of how this works and how this can be done well," said McFarland.
Despite the Farm Bureau's claims, local activists urge Kern County to take a harder line on pesticide use.
"As a human being they need to ask themselves 'Are they willing to pay the price if their children and families are in some way harmed?', " said Martinez.
Results of this study were presented in six other California cities including Fresno, Los Angeles, Salinas, San Francisco, Stockton and Ventura.