State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando (Pic by Minority Office, via flsenate.gov)

The Florida Senate is attempting, again, to award a health center in an area experiencing a high rate of environmentally caused illnesses half a million dollars to address the community’s health challenges.

This week, the health appropriations committee in the Senate released its budget proposal, which includes $500,000 for the Apopka Family Health Center.

The money would go to a health center in a community outside Orlando that has been experiencing a rise in complicated health problems due to years of prolonged exposure to pollutants such as pesticides. The specialized health care would help many at-risk migrant and seasonal farmworkers that currently live in Apopka.

State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, is the main force behind the effort to allocate the funds. Siplin told me last September that he has made helping Apopka “a priority in [his] life as a state senator.”

Siplin explained that the community has needed help for years. He said that 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.”

According to a study from the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine, Apopka is 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 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, including “language barriers, lack of health insurance, lack of transportation, fear of immigration policies, and low socioeconomic statuses.”

While the Apopka health center was awarded $500,00o by the state Legislature last year, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it from the budget. The item was included in the “Florida Tax Watch Turkey List” for that year. The list is compiled every year by tax watchdogs seeking out what they consider to be waste in the budget.

Siplin has since regrouped and is taking another stab at helping the community. Besides getting funding for the health center, he has mentioned having trees planted around the area to remove some of the odor from a nearby landfill and working to discontinue landfills in Apopka. He has also filed a bill would increase access to fresh vegetables and fruits for low-income and struggling communities.

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