Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hungry for real pesticide protections? So are farmworkers.

by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

Each year farms across the United States use over 800 million pounds of pesticides – weed, bug and fungus killing chemicals – to grow our food. Some of those chemicals wind up on the food we eat. Some of those chemicals wind up in our water. These chemicals are associated with a wide array of health problems in humans, from increased cancer risk to learning disabilities.

But more than anyone else, the people affected by pesticides are the people who pick our food: farmworkers. From higher cancer rates to learning disabilities among children, farmworkers suffer the greatest burden of harm from the pesticides used on our food.

This week, farmworkers are demanding a change.
A team of farmworkers from North Carolina and Florida are braving brutally cold weather to travel to Washington DC for meetings with the US Environmental Protection Agency and members of Congress. Members of NC FIELD and the Farmworker Association of Florida have left their jobs and families behind this week to convey their message in Washington: End the delays that have slowed down new pesticide rules for over a decade. It’s time to finally move forward on the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the set of regulations intended to protect farmworkers from exposure to hazardous pesticides on the job.

The WPS governs things like what safety equipment must be worn, how workers are trained, and what information is provided to workers about the chemicals they’re working with. By any measure, the WPS has failed in its job so far. The WPS allows teenagers to work as pesticide handlers. It is unclear about many requirements, like how soon employers have to provide medical attention in case of an emergency, and whether workers should get written information about the pesticides to which they are exposed.

Why does this matter to the average consumer? Just imagine if the workers in an automotive plant were under-trained and under-informed about the materials they worked with every day. Workers need to be able to report faulty equipment, misused chemicals, stupid mistakes and breaches of the law. When they can’t, we all bear the consequences, in the form of foods, streams and soil contaminated with hazardous chemicals. And the farmworkers themselves suffer most of all.

The decision-makers at the EPA need to hear from the people most directly affected by the political choices they make. If they do, we all reap the benefits.

P.S. Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook page to get updates from the team in DC this week!

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