Pesticides

More the 21,000 Signatures on Petition to EPA Being Delivered Today

EPA proposed changes to the WPS last year, and before the public comment period closed in August, hundreds of thousands of individuals urged EPA to do more to protect workers and their families. Today again, we calling on EPA to finalize the WPS by August 18th, one year from the end of that comment period. We will deliver a petition to the EPA later today with more than 21,000 signatures from individuals around the country asking the Agency to act swiftly to prevent further injury to workers from pesticides.

The U.S. EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) provides basic protections for farmworkers from exposure to pesticides. In 1992, when EPA last updated the WPS, it estimated that farmworkers in this country experienced between 10,000 and 20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide poisonings annually. While the 1992 revisions led to some improvement in working conditions, the WPS stills fall woefully short of truly protecting workers. In the more than 20 years since those revisions were implemented, further research on the dangers of pesticides and its effect on workers’ health underscore the urgency in strengthening these protections. 

Twenty years is too long to wait. Every growing season that change is delayed results in thousands of preventable exposures to workers and their families.
 

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Worker Protection Standard Comment Period Ends Tonight: Tell the EPA to Protect Farmworkers

Today is the last day that the EPA will accept public comments on proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) that provides the regulatory minimum for occupational pesticide exposure protection. Other workers who are exposed to toxic substances are covered by stronger protections, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The result is that the men, women, and children who produce the nation’s food are less protected from workplace hazards than other workers.

Although the proposed changes to the WPS will not address all the challenges in the fields, they are a step in the right direction to prevent pesticide illness. If the final rule includes our recommended improvements, the results will include greater awareness by farmworkers of the risks they face and preventative measures; and fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members.

The agricultural industry is working hard to dissuade the EPA from adopting the rules that benefit farmworkers the most. Today, Politico reported the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture submitted comments that “call on the EPA to scrap the proposed changes.”

Farmworker Justice and other farmworker advocates have provided the EPA with extensive information to justify stronger protections for farmworkers. Your voice is needed to make sure farmworker safety does not take a back seat to the interests of agribusiness and pesticide manufacturers.

Please join Farmworker Justice and urge the EPA to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. You have until midnight tonight to submit comments.

Visit our website to use our model comments and submit by midnight tonight!
 

Safer Food, Farmworkers and Families : New Coalition to Protect Farmworkers From Pesticide Hazards

As we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this week, many of us will reflect upon the bounty on our tables. While we enjoy the best of the food season, we should also remember on those who work hard in the fields, facing many dangers and often not earning enough to put food on the table themselves.

This week a coalition of farmworker supporters is launching a new campaign to keep farmworkers safe from one of the biggest hazards they face on the job: exposure to toxic pesticides.

Visit the new website to learn more about pesticides and farmworkers  and add your name to the petition calling on the federal government to fix the outdated pesticide rules that are failing to keep workers – and us – safe from exposure on the job.

Farmworkers are some of the hardest working, yet least protected, workers in our country. Many laws that protect almost every other worker in the U.S. do not apply to farmworkers. There is one set of standards, however, that is designed to help protect the health and safety of farmworkers from pesticide exposure: the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard for pesticides. Yet these standards are grossly inadequate for the men, women and children who are on the frontlines of our food production system. Farmworker Justice released a detailed report about pesticides and the Worker Protection Standard earlier this year titled Exposed and Ignored: How pesticides are endangering our nation's farmworkers.

A healthy, safe, and fair food system would benefit us all, protecting the health and serving the economic needs of farmworkers, farmers, rural communities and consumers. Shifting away from reliance on hazardous pesticides is a key step toward this goal. But as long as harmful pesticides are in use, farmworkers need better protections in the field.

Farmworkers have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among U.S. workers. They are regularly exposed to pesticides throughout their workday in various ways, from mixing or applying pesticides to planting, weeding, harvesting or processing crops. In addition, farmworkers often live in or near treated fields, and harmful pesticides can drift into their homes. Health impacts can include both acute poisonings and long-term, chronic health effects such as various cancers, Parkinsons’ Disease, asthma, birth defects and neurological harms, including developmental delays and learning disabilities. Farmworkers’ children are particularly at risk.

Current regulations have failed to protect farmworkers and their families from pesticide exposure and harms. California farmworker poisoning data illustrate the extent of this nationwide problem, reporting hundreds of poisoning cases each year. Hundreds more — possibly thousands — go unreported due to workers’ fear of job loss and/or retaliation. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that many states have weak or nonexistent systems for reporting poisoning incidents.

After more than a decade of broken promises and delays, EPA is now poised to strengthen the rules protecting farmworkers; but the agency needs to do so now and it needs to get it right. EPA must issue revisions to strengthen the Worker Protection Standard before the end of the year. The new regulations should include the following key improvements:

  •  A minimum age of 18 to work with pesticides. Currently teens as young as 16 may work mixing, loading and applying these highly toxic chemicals.
  •  Better and more frequent training on health risks of pesticides.
  •  Worker access to timely information about the use, location, and hazards of specific pesticides on the farm where they work.
  • Special protections for pesticide handlers.
  •  Improved enforcement of safety standards at the state level.

The farmworkers who harvest our food need protection from toxic pesticides. Safe fields go hand in hand with safe food. Add your voice and learn more at www.ProtectFarmworkers.org.
 

NPR Blog- How To Better Protect Farmworkers From Pesticides: Spanish

Dan Charles for NPR recently wrote a blog about the role of pesticide labels in protecting our nation's farmworkers.

Advocates for farmworkers, especially those who grow America's leafy greens and fresh vegetables, are pushing the government to do more to protect those workers from exposure to pesticides.

A 20-year-old regulation — the Worker Protection Standard — is supposed to prevent harmful pesticide exposures on the farm. But activist groups like Farmworker Justice say it falls short, and the Environmental Protection Agency is currently working on a new version .

A new report from Farmworker Justice points out that under the current rules, farmworkers don't get nearly as much information about hazardous chemicals they may encounter as, say, factory workers. (Industrial workers are covered by different regulations, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.)

And then there's the barrier of language. Pesticides carry warning labels that spell out health risks and how workers should protect themselves — but those labels are usually in English. More than 80 percent of the workers in the "salad bowls" of Salinas, Calif., or Yuma, Ariz., are Hispanic. Many have difficulty communicating in English.

Farmworkers "are frustrated about their lack of knowledge about these chemicals," says Virginia Ruiz, director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice. Her group, along with many others, submitted formal comments to the EPA arguing that "without bilingual labeling, today's Spanish-speaking agricultural workforce is at great risk for pesticide exposure."

Pesticide companies appear to be split on the issue. One industry trade association, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, has opposed bilingual labels, arguing that Spanish translations were unnecessary and would make labels more cumbersome to design. The agricultural chemical company Syngenta, on the other hand, endorsed the idea.

The proposed regulations face a long road before they'd ever take effect. Once the EPA finishes its draft, the document has to go through a review by the White House before it is even released for public comment. It could be years before the regulations are final.

In the meantime, though, some activist groups (including Farmworker Justice and Oxfam America ) have joined forces with food companies (Costco!) to attack the problem on their own, through a newEquitable Food Initiative. The initiative is based on the idea that giving farmworkers more power, responsibility and money will lead to better, higher-quality food production.

The initiative has drawn up standards that (among many other things) are supposed to reduce the use of pesticides and share information — in any language — about how to handle them safely. On each farm, a worker-manager team is responsible for meeting the standard.

"The whole point is to get the team on-site to own this obligation," says Peter O'Driscoll, the initiative's project manager, who works with Oxfam America. 

A Call to EPA: Update the Worker Protection Standards & Protect Farmworkers from Pesticide Exposure

Improving the health and safety of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families has been part of Farmworker Justice’s core mission since its founding 32 years ago. Today, we are releasing a new report, Exposed and Ignored: How Pesticides are Endangering Our Nation’s Farmworkers, which outlines the challenges farmworkers face in keeping themselves and their families safe from pesticides. With the release of this report and the testimonies of the many farmworkers visiting Washington this week, we call on the federal government to act now to provide important protections for farmworkers.

Farmworkers are exposed to pesticides in a variety of ways. Workers are at risk for exposure from direct spray, aerial drift, or contact with chemical residues on the crops they are picking and in the soil. Workers who mix, load, or apply pesticides are at an additional risk of exposure due to spills, splashes, and inadequate or missing protective equipment.

The EPA estimates that as many as 20,000 farmworkers experience pesticide poisoning each year but the real number is likely to be much higher as many workers do not have access to medical care nor is there a national system for keeping track of identified incidents.

For example, last year a crop duster sprayed pesticides over 40 farmworkers working in Arizona. Firefighters were called to the scene and set up a decontamination area where they had the workers remove their clothing in the cold night air and sprayed them with a fire hose. Ten workers were sent to the hospital for treatment. While this case received some local media attention, many more incidents go unreported in the press and even to appropriate authorities.

But the dangers of pesticide exposure extend beyond the field. Farmworker families, especially children, are at risk of elevated pesticide exposure. Pesticide residues cling to workers’ tools, clothes, shoes, and skin and follow them into their homes. Often, their homes are immediately beside or within the fields. Childcare facilities and schools border fields. Many pesticides spread through the air, drifting off target.

The close proximity of agricultural fields to residential areas and schools makes it nearly impossible for farmworkers and their families to escape exposure because pesticides are in the air they breathe, the food they eat, and the soil where they work and play.

The nature of working with crops will likely always involve some occupational danger. But farmworkers deserve more than the set of protections they have now. Regulatory authority for pesticide exposure is in the hands of the US Environmental Protection Agency. The regulations known as the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) have not been updated in over 20 years and are ineffective in preventing exposure in the fields. More than a decade ago EPA admitted that even when there is full compliance with the WPS, “risks to the workers still exceed EPA’s level of concern.” A decade later, those concerns should not be forgotten. It’s time to make changes. Revisions to the Worker Protection Standard are urgently needed to protect farmworkers and agricultural communities at large.

Simple revisions to the WPS should require:

-Better (and more frequent) training on health risks of pesticides and steps to avoid exposure and injury
-Worker access to timely information about the use, location and hazards of specific pesticides on the farm where they work.
-Special protections for pesticide handlers.
-Improved enforcement of safety standards at the state level.

Currently the WPS only requires farmworkers to receive general information about all pesticides but not the specific pesticides being used at their workplace. Every field uses different pesticides. Each pesticide has different health effects. Farmworkers should not receive less information about chemical hazards than workers in other industries.

Just as we establish standards and regulations to protect workers in every industry, we must address the health and safety of the farmworkers who labor each day to put food on our tables. Working and living in hazardous conditions should not be the price farmworkers have to pay to feed their families – and yours. Please call on the EPA to step up to its obligations. Now is the time to update the Worker Protection Standard. Every day we wait is another day that farmworkers are needlessly exposed to toxic pesticides.

Overdue Standards Better Protect People from Human Pesticide Tests

Today, at long last, the EPA issued a new rule that strengthens scientific and ethical protections for tests of pesticides on humans. This rule was the result of a 2006 lawsuit filed against the EPA by a coalition of public health, environmental and farmworker advocates. The groups sued the EPA for issuing a regulation in 2005 that, among other things, did not completely prohibit testing on pregnant women and children, did not guarantee fully informed consent, and permitted unscientific research methods.

The pesticide industry had used unethical experiments involving human subjects to argue for weaker pesticide safety standards. Farmworker Justice, which was one of the counsel in the lawsuit, hopes that the new regulations will result in greater protections for those who are most exposed to pesticides, particularly farmworkers and their families.

Farmworkers win battle over Methyl Iodide

On Tuesday, farmworkers scored an important victory in their battle against toxins in their workplaces and in their homes.  In the face of intense public pressure and mounting court challenges, Arysta LifeScience announced it would immediately suspend sales of its carcinogenic pesticide methyl iodide, stating that the product was no longer economically viable in the U.S. market.

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