Editor’s Desk: From coastlines to strawberry fields

Workers in the strawberry fields of Oxnard, California.

We wanted to highlight two stories that we ran this week. The first looks at the way nature offers protection from extreme storms. The second delves into pesticide monitoring and the ways it falls short in the view of scientists.

In FERN’s report with Scientific American, “As coastal flooding surges, ‘living shorelines’ seen as the answer,” Rowan Jacobsen looked at ways to protect coastal areas, steadily in the news because of extreme weather events associated with climate change. Scientists now realize that “‘living shorelines’ — salt marsh, mangrove, oyster reef, beach and coral reef—can be surprisingly effective in a battle coastal residents have been losing for years,” he writes. “Armored” shorelines such as bulkheads offer less protection against big storms. Natural defenses also are far cheaper than man-made structures, a significant finding at a time when “shores are disintegrating as higher seas, stronger storms and runaway development trigger an epidemic of erosion and flood damage.”

In “What pesticide monitoring misses,” Liza Gross looked at the risks of pesticides in light of the Environmental Working Group’s report on the Dirty Dozen — those foods that ranked highest in pesticide residues. Although deemed safe by the EPA, she talked with scientists who question the framework for these decisions. “Since pesticide monitoring began about three decades ago, scientists have learned that even low doses of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals can harm children and that exposure to chemical mixtures, particularly during critical windows of neurodevelopment, may carry serious health risks that take years to emerge,” she writes. Plus, government agencies don’t monitor risks to farmworkers who labor among those chemicals, or to pregnant women and children who live near agricultural fields.