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Workers in Ohio’s Fields Seek Better Pesticide Protections

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 By Mary KuhlmanContact
July 15, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - More needs to be done to protect those working Ohio's and the country's fields from exposure to hazardous pesticides: That's the message Congress members are hearing today and Tuesday from farm workers from around the nation.

Each year, over 5 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops in the U.S. and thousands of farm workers experience pesticide poisoning. According to Mario Vargas of Toledo, an organizer with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, during his 16 years working on farms, he saw and experienced the harmful effects.

"You're talking about 100 degrees out there. You start getting dizzy, you start getting thirsty, your mouth swells, you're tired, you go home, you still have a headache, and you blame it all on the work, and if you really think about it, it's some of the chemicals that they're spraying," Vargas declared.

According to the federal government, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry each year. Vargas said that's likely an underestimate, because many farm workers affected by pesticides do not seek a doctor's care. He and others are asking leaders to strengthen the Worker Protection Standard regulations, which set the rules for pesticide use, but have not been updated or revised for over two decades.

Vargas said updated standards are needed that would ensure workers receive information about the specific pesticides used in their work, require medical monitoring of workers who handle neurotoxic pesticides, and require safety precautions and protective equipment limiting worker contact with chemicals.

He added that there also needs to be better pesticide training for farm workers, who often are uneducated about the dangers.

"They're just another worker just, like when I was a worker, and they just say, 'Look, I'm going to give you a 25-minute video, watch it, and then here you go. Start mixing those chemicals, put them in the sprayer and go out and spray,' and of course, it's a dollar extra and you'll go out there and do it," Vargas said. "That's all the training you have."

There are 1.2 million farm workers in the U.S., many of whom, Vargas said, are regularly exposed to pesticides.

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