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Pesticide Use: Equal Protection Sought for Farm Workers

An estimated 95 percent of onions grown in New York are treated with the pesticide chlorpyrifos. (Pollinator/Wikimedia Commons)
An estimated 95 percent of onions grown in New York are treated with the pesticide chlorpyrifos. (Pollinator/Wikimedia Commons)
September 23, 2016

NEW YORK – Farm workers and health groups have petitioned the EPA to ban agricultural uses of a pesticide that was removed from household products years ago. Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxin originally developed by the Nazis for chemical warfare. It's known to cause irreversible brain damage in children and fetuses.

And according to managing attorney Patti Goldman with Earthjustice, the EPA has identified more than 200 uses that put workers at extreme risk.

"So, it's made the findings, the hard work has been done in terms of the analysis," she said. "What it hasn't done is take action to protect the workers, and that's what we're asking EPA to do."

Last year, negotiations between the EPA and the pesticide industry to reduce the risks of chlorpyrifos use broke down, and the agency still hasn't initiated any new regulations.

Doctor Ed Zuroweste, chief medical officer for the Migrant Clinicians Network, sees the lack of agricultural regulations as a racial justice issue. He said the ban on household use issued 16 years ago protects the white, urban population.

"But if you're a person of color, which most farm workers are, and you're rural America, then you and your children are exposed to it," he said. "So, there's a double standard there."

According to Dow Chemical, 95 percent of the onions grown in New York State are treated with chlorpyrifos. And onions account for more than 12,000 acres of farmland in the state.

Goldman said the petition filed with the EPA this week asks for an immediate ban on uses of chlorpyrifos that put workers at risk of acute poisoning.

"It's trying to put an end to treating workers like second-class citizens," Goldman added. "It's time to protect the workers and their families."

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY