Monday, November 25, 2013

Safer Food, Farmworkers and Families

by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

As we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this week, many of us will say a prayer of thanks for the hardworking people who harvest our food. While we enjoy the harvest’s bounty, we also reflect on those who work hard in the fields, facing many dangers and often not earning enough to put food on the table themselves. That’s why Thanksgiving week is also designated as International Food Workers Week.

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.

Check out and add your name to the petition calling on the federal government to fix the outdated pesticide rules that are failing to keep workers – and us – safe from exposure on the job.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.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Expectations Exceeded! Volunteering with Toxic Free NC

by Paul Chang, Outreach Intern with Toxic Free NC

Being surrounded by the fresh atmosphere of the Raleigh Midtown Farmers Market gave me a well-needed rejuvenating burst of energy.  The people, the products, and everything that goes into an active healthy community was present.  I honestly loved every part of it!

Participating as an outreach volunteer at Toxic Free NC gives me a chance to enjoy what I love doing most: building relationships and educating people.  Going in to my first outreach event at the Raleigh Midtown Farmers Market, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I was very curious to see what this outreach would actually look like in action.  But, when we arrived, I was immediately comforted by the calm, yet busy atmosphere of everyone trying to find their fresh veggies early in the morning.  Everyone who was interested in Toxic Free NC who came to our table was super friendly and easy-going.  I came up with the hypothesis that since these people are filled with fresh and/or organic foods in their bodies, their personalities are fresh and organic.  You know what they say, “you are what you eat.”

Laura and Paul volunteering for Toxic Free NC
Educating and interacting with the individuals was my favorite part of the whole day.  We joked, we laughed, and we educated with passion!  I really feel that this outreach program is a truly effective way to get the word out to the community about reducing their exposure to toxic chemicals.  The simplicity of this outreach was the best part! Giving out information, starting conversations about toxic chemical exposure, and just sharing personal experiences about environmental health was amazing.  Also, letting people make their own least-toxic household cleaner through our practical demonstration was some good educational entertainment for me.  To add to this amazing experience, it was “Pie Day” at the Market.  When I heard the news that 11 other tables in the farmers market made pies for people to sample, my day couldn’t have gotten better.  I sampled, I voted, and I was satisfied by the unique flavors of each pie in my stomach.

My experience with this volunteer outreach event exceeded all my expectations in every way!  The atmosphere, the people, the music, the kids, and our educational purpose all intertwined into a day of fresh fun.  Also, having random, yet interesting, conversations with two awesome people from Toxic Free NC throughout the day was a big cherry on top!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Toxic Free NC Names Levy Schroeder as Executive Director

Schroeder brings 10 years of experience in environmental justice and farmworker advocacy to Toxic Free NC

The Board of Directors for Toxic Free North Carolina has appointed Levy Schroeder as the organization’s full-time Executive Director, effective December 2, 2013.

Schroeder brings a wealth of experience to the organization in the fields of environmental justice, food equity and farmworker advocacy. She will lead Toxic Free NC’s efforts to educate North Carolinians about pesticide hazards and common-sense alternatives to toxic chemicals, to watchdog the government agencies that regulate pesticides and toxic chemicals, and to change the way our communities view and use pesticides and toxic chemicals, especially where people are at greatest risk from exposure.

“We’re so pleased to bring Levy on staff,” said Mindy Hiteshue, president of Toxic Free NC’s Board of Directors. “Levy will bring leadership and vision to our organization and will work to expand our programs and further fulfill our mission to reduce exposure to pesticides and toxic chemicals. Levy's years of experience working directly with farmworker communities and serving nonprofits at program, fundraising and leadership levels will be a great asset to our organization.”

Previously, Schroeder served as the Director of Health and Safety Programs at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), where she led the organization’s efforts to bring farmworker health and safety programming to its membership agencies.

“I’m excited about joining such a dynamic, passionate team, and I am looking forward to leading advocacy efforts for alternatives to pesticides and toxic chemicals in North Carolina,” says Schroeder.

Fawn Pattison, Toxic Free NC's current Executive Director, will be moving into a new role as Senior Advocate this December. In her new position, Pattison will be focused entirely on advocating for common-sense alternatives to toxic chemicals that protect our health and environment.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

North Carolina Businesses Urge Congress to Act on Toxic Chemicals

Manufacturers likeLee Industries are phasing out hazardous chemicals
The Sustainable Furnishings Council and Toxic Free NC have partnered to organize “real reform” for the use of safer chemicals in North Carolina manufactured products. Business leaders across the state are stepping up to seek federal change in outdated laws currently allowing tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in furniture and other manufactured products.

Download our new white paper [PDF, 645 KB] to learn how NC Businesses are leading the market away from toxic chemicals, and seeking legislative reform.

In rebuilding and strengthening the U.S. economy, many businesses are calling for a new policy that limits the use of toxic chemicals, and prioritizes green products and engineering. Chemical safety legislation will support these efforts, and you can help by urging Congress to take action!

For the first time in decades, there is real opportunity to fix the problem at its source, and to rebuild our economy based on safer chemical regulations. Congress needs to pay attention, and take action by enacting legislation to address the issue of toxic chemicals. Real reform will have a positive impact on business and manufacturing in North Carolina, and will spur a healthier economy and a healthier environment.

Overhauling our nation’s outdated chemical laws supports American business:
  • Consumers are demanding safer products.
  • Safer products lead to better business for North Carolina.
  • Lack of chemical regulation is hamstringing businesses.
The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 — intended to give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the power to identify and regulate dangerous chemicals — is outdated and simply does not work.

Download the white paper here (645 KB)
Congress has yet to take meaningful action, and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act currently proposed in the US Senate would not solve this problem as currently written.

We need Federal Change Now

It’s time for Congress to set common sense limits on toxic chemicals, and our businesses and manufacturers are leading the charge. Make your voice heard by supporting the push for reform.

What You Can Do

You can help ensure that North Carolina is on the forefront of economic AND safety reform by urging Congress to overhaul our federal toxic chemicals law.

Businesses can join NC furniture manufacturers by requesting and signing on to a joint letter to Congress. Individuals can contact their Senators directly to take action.