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Elisa Rivera’s face swelled up, her eyes watered, and soon she was struggling to breathe.
The 39-year-old first started to feel ill when the smell of pesticides drifted from nearby Fresno county fruit orchards on a recent afternoon: “We experience this all the time. People get used to it.”
Rivera and other activists have been fighting for years to stop the spread of toxic chemicals in California’s Central Valley, and they are hoping this kind of sickening drift will become less common following an unprecedented victory they won last month. California announced in May it was moving to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that is linked to brain damage in children and is sprayed on almonds, citrus, cotton, grapes, walnuts, and other major crops.
The Golden State’s prohibition is a stand against the Trump administration, which has supported continued use of the chemical. Central Valley organizers are now pushing California to prevent hazardous materials from replacing chlorpyrifos. They’re hoping their movement can be a blueprint for grassroots activists across the U.S. of how coalitions can tackle environmental dangers – and the systems that enable their spread.