The Florida Current reports that advocates are hoping a new state Senate report will lead to help for the struggling Apopka community.
According to the Current, “a Farmworker Association of Florida representative says she hopes a Senate interim report [.pdf] on the plight of Lake Apopka farmworkers will lead the state to help those who believe they have suffered from working around pesticides.”
The 2012 Senate Interim Workplan (.pdf) includes a report that contains “information concerning the health issues being experienced by former farm workers from the Lake Apopka area and possible assistance.”
However, the Current notes the report ”provides no policy direction or recommendations [but] lays out the history of the issue in detail.”
According to the Current:
And it seems to discount health concerns from pesticide exposure by prominently citing other environmental health concerns from respondents in a 2007 health survey involving the Farmworker Association of Florida. Those concerns included a general lack of health care, concerns about traffic congestion, drug and alcohol abuse, and problems indirectly connected to farm work.
Jeannie Economos, pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida office in Apopka, said the 2007 health survey was not designed to focus solely on farmworkers. In addition, she said, the survey was conducted years after the farms had closed and some farmworkers had moved way.
The survey, she said, also included residents who were not farmworkers but were exposed to other sources of chemicals in Lake Apopka area including a landfill and contaminated fish.
“The Lake Apopka farmworker issue is complicated by the fact that there are two overlapping communities and two different, yet related and relevant environmental justice issues,” Economos wrote in an email.
State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said this past September that he has made helping the Apopka area “a priority in [his] life as a state senator” and would be working on multiple projects that would help the region.
Apopka, a community outside of Orlando, has been facing a serious health crisis that has caught the attention of health researchers, health providers and policymakers. Apopka has a large population of seasonal farm workers and minorities.
According to a study from the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine, the community is currently facing varied health problems, many of which are attributed to “chronic pesticide exposure and insufficient pesticide safety training.” The study warned that the pesticides present “a highly prevalent problem that is related to both chronic and acute conditions and generational adverse effects.”
It also found that “the most common complaint was cold-like symptoms, followed by gastritis and musculoskeletal problems.” About 80 percent of the Hispanic migrant workers were also found to be overweight or obese, with a high incidence of high blood pressure. Yet many of them face an “inability to receive consistent, affordable care while being exposed to multiple occupational hazards” due to a number of factors. These factors include “language barriers, lack of health insurance, lack of transportation, fear of immigration policies, and low socioeconomic statuses.”
According to Siplin, 10 to 15 years ago, Apopka farmworkers were being sprayed with pesticides. ”Now, they are burying someone almost every weekend,” he said. “I feel they have been mistreated.”
This past May, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $500,000 from the the state budget that was set aside to provide specialized health care to at-risk residents in Apopka.
Now, Siplin has regrouped and is taking another stab at helping the community. Among his list of priorities has been funding community health centers in the area, having trees planted around the area to remove some of the odor from a nearby landfill, working to discontinue landfills in Apopka and increasing access to fresh fruit and vegetables for the workers.
Siplin has already begun working to make it easier for community health centers to provide dental and medical care and has filed a bill would increase access to fresh vegetables and fruits for low-income and struggling communities.
According the Current, Economos “hopes the interim report will help support a state budget appropriation in 2012.” She said residents will need help paying for prescriptions and medical care.
“At least it’s validation, finally, that there is a problem here,” Economos told the Current.