State farmworker advocates are calling on the EPA to expand federal labor protection laws to agricultural laborers — arguing that pesticide poisoning is hampering the health of workers.
Activists, including the Farmworker Association of Florida, have penned an open letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, calling for greater training in pesticide use, facilities for workers to shower in, and inspections of pesticide use by state workers without notice.
“The general understanding is, we better get something done during the Obama administration rather than after, because we don’t know what will come next,” said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist for the San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network North America.
The issue of pesticide poisoning has roiled South Florida in recent years. In late 2002 and early 2003, within six weeks of each other, three children were born with serious birth defects in the farm town of Immokalee.
The Palm Beach Post reported that the parents said they had been exposed to freshly sprayed pesticides. Ag-Mart, a Plant City company that employed the parents, eventually settled out of court with parents whose child was born with no limbs. Experts said the sealed settlement was likely for millions of dollars.
Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the state Agriculture Department, disputed the attacks on Florida’s inspection record in a statement to the Post.
“Florida’s pesticide inspectors are proactive in visiting farms who have more labor-intensive crops such as tomatoes and corn,” said Ivey, “and when violations of federal pesticide regulations are found, we take action.”
The Farmworker Association recently announced that it would be “putting the six major pesticide companies on trial for violation of human rights” during the Permanent People’s Tribunal Trial, which began on Dec. 3. According to the agricorporate accountability website, the tribunal convened for three days to indict agro-chemical transnationals for “gross violations of human rights.”
According to the Post, the groups are requesting a host of changes to pesticide use, including greater training, facilities where workers can change and shower, labels on pesticides to indicate when a respirator should be used during application, and the creation of a confidential system for reporting violations.
In addition to causing harm to farm workers, pesticides can have disastrous effects on state waterways. Ground water, which is used by about 50 percent of the nation’s population (95 percent in agricultural areas), can easily become contaminated by pesticides. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, pesticides “can reach water-bearing aquifers below ground from applications onto crop fields, seepage of contaminated surface water, accidental spills and leaks, improper disposal, and even through injection waste material into wells.”