American farm workers often unaware of the chemicals inside agriculture pesticides are getting sick or dying at alarming rates, according to Mother Jones. The publication also reports that migrant farm laborers, many of them illegal aliens, are too afraid of deportation to question the ingredients in farm pesticides, or report infractions to authorities. Federal law requires agricultural growers to “promptly” report chemicals sprayed on farms. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the Worker Protection Standard policy enforcement designed to protects field workers and agriculture handlers. EPA records reveal that between 10,000 to 20,0000 diagnosed pesticide poisonings occur each year among the estimated 2 million farm workers in the United States.
Mother Jones notes that a multitude of pesticide induced ailments and deaths occur annually and detailed the plight of an 18-year-old female Mexican farm laborer who experienced skin rashes, nose bleeds and vomiting while working in Arkansas blackberry fields. Although her physician surmised the symptoms were due to a bacterial infection or the flu, Tania Banda-Rodriguez suspected pesticides were the culprit. She connected with Tennessee legal services lawyers, who spent six months attempting to uncover what type of chemicals were used in the blackberry fields. An Arkansas inspector was eventually dispatched to the blackberry field, but was unable to determine what chemical pesticides were used the day the young woman became ill.
Further research concluded that a fungicide known as Switch 62.5WG was used at the Arkansas blackberry farm. The chemical is known to irritate the skin and eyes. Banda-Rodriguez fully recovered from her chemical interaction, followed the growing season to Virginia and eventually returned to Mexico, according to Mother Jones. Southern Migrant Legal Services attorney Caitlin Berberich stated the “system in place to address pesticide exposure is horrible and just doesn’t work,” during an interview with Mother Jones. The agency provides fee legal services to migrant farmworkers.
Migrant farm laborers working in Tennessee tomato fields are engaged in an ongoing federal lawsuit with the agriculture facility which employed them over pesticide usage. The farm workers claim that after complaining about pesticides sprayed near them they were “fired on the spot” and put on a bus back to Mexico.
A Florida lawsuit by farm worker Jovita Alfau against Power Bloom Farms and Growers claims that laborers were sent into the fields “too soon after spraying” Endosulfan. The toxin has now been banned by the EPA because it was deemed to potentially harmful to wildlife and farm workers. The Migrant Farmworker Justice Project secured a settled of $100,000 for Alfau which did not include an admission of wrongdoing.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Director Andy Rackley is calling for the EPA to “fully fund advocacy groups” to train workers on pesticide safety and encourages the practice of labeling pesticides warnings in both English and Spanish.