More Pesticides Mean More Risks for Farmworkers & Their Children

As farmworkers plant, weed, irrigate, and harvest our fruits and vegetables, they are at constant risk for exposure to dangerous pesticide residues. These residues cling to plants and are easily absorbed into the soil. Farmworkers are continuously exposed as they engage in their daily work tasks.


Recently during a Farmworker Justice pesticide safety training course for promotores de salud (health outreach workers) in Arizona, we explored the phenomenon of pesticide drift and discussed how escaping from the drift seems impossible when you live in an industrial agriculture community. The promotores described expansive fields of herbs and salad greens that receive a cocktail of pesticides throughout the growing season. "Airplanes fly over these fields and the chemicals come raining down," describes Maria, a promotora with locally-based Campesinos Sin Fronteras (CSF). These pesticides naturally drift over to adjoining fields, houses, playgrounds and schools.

Additionally, pesticide residues run off into water systems creating additional hazards for farmworker families that so often live in close proximity to the fields.

Yesterday in his NYT blog post, Mark Bittman highlighted the growing threat from pesticides. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement warning parents of the dangers of pesticides. Both articles underscore how high level of pesticide exposure is especially concerning for children. Juana, another promotora with CSF, recounted how both she and her young son were diagnosed with lymphoma. “We don’t just live near the fields, we live right in the middle of them,” she said. “After I started to learn about how dangerous pesticides are I began to wonder if this is what caused our illnesses.” Thankfully both Juana and her son are both well now, but she worries since she still works each year harvesting lettuce, and lives in her house in the midst of fields.

Since pesticide residues are often invisible and odorless it is particularly critical that farmworkers receive training in safety and prevention techniques. CSF promtora Elena discusses how important it is to provide this information to pregnant women working in the fields. “When I was pregnant with my children I never realized it could be dangerous for me to be working in the lettuce. I’m so thankful that they were born healthy. But now that I know of the dangers I need to inform other women about the risks they are taking. So many things could happen to that child, before they are even born. We have to find ways to keep our children and communities healthy. ”