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Advocate: Farm Workers “Treated Like Insects”

PHOTO: Farmworkers visited Washington DC this week, calling on Congress for stronger protections from hazardous pesticides they say are harming them and their families. Courtesy Pesticide Action Network.
PHOTO: Farmworkers visited Washington DC this week, calling on Congress for stronger protections from hazardous pesticides they say are harming them and their families. Courtesy Pesticide Action Network.
July 18, 2013

PHOENIX - Farm workers from around the nation have been in Washington this week to urge Congress to pass stronger legislation to reduce what one government estimate says are 10,000 to 20,000 acute pesticide poisonings yearly in the agricultural industry.

Alina Diaz, who organizes farmworkers at onion, cabbage and apple operations, said "one of them told me, 'I'm tired of being treated like a roach, like an insect. I'm tired of being sick.' "

The workers say pesticides drift over them while being applied in adjacent fields or even right where they're working. Protecting farm workers from pesticides is the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose pesticide safety standards - according to critics - haven't been revised or updated in more than 20 years. According to the EPA, its Worker Protection Standard manual for employers was updated in 2005.

Earthjustice is providing legal help to the pesticide-protection advocates. Andrea Delgado, a Washington-based legislative representative for Earthjustice, said farm workers take their work home with them because the chemicals stay on their clothing, which can expose their families.

"Farm workers can't really hug their children when they come home," she said. "They don't have the decontamination areas in the workplace."

Delgado said the number of poisoning cases is thought to be under-reported since many workers don't seek a doctor's help. Volunteer medical organizations try to reach out to them.

"They come in covered in rashes and sores and with nausea and vomiting," she said. "A lot of them have to drive them to get medical care because the growers themselves won't do it."

Diaz, vice president of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, said many of the workers she represents are happy to have jobs, no matter how many hours are spent in trying conditions and for meager compensation.

"One of them said, 'I don't mind, Ms. Diaz, to do hard work. And I don't even mind to be paid under-wage. But, you know what? I really mind about the health of my children and the health of myself.' "

An estimated 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States. Diaz said she wonders, "How can people eat knowing that so much pain and suffering went into this fruit or this bottle of wine?"

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ