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Agriculture Today

Farm workers in DC demand protections from pesticides

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July 24, 2013 | 4,478 views | Post a comment

By John Michaelson

Public News Service, Texas

AUSTIN -- Farm workers from across the nation met with members of Congress July 15-16, asking for stronger protections from hazardous pesticides.

Farm workers face the greatest threat from these chemicals, and Ernesto Velez, executive director of Centro Campesino, said 10,000 to 20,000 cases of acute pesticide poisoning occur each year in the United States.

“There are definitely a lot of cases from different places where people have been directly affected,” he said. “Either illnesses or reactions or, in some of the worst cases, there have been genetic changes, changes in fetuses and babies. So, it’s something that is definitely very important and very critical that we can improve.”

Short-term effects of pesticide exposures can include blisters, nausea, headaches, and respiratory problems, while cumulative long-term exposures can increase the risk of serious chronic health problems such as cancer and neurological impairments.

In addition to the safety of the farm workers and their families, Velez said, all Americans have a stake in greater protections from pesticides since these workers are the backbone of the U.S. agricultural economy.

“Those workers are basically providing the food for the entire country,” he said, “They are the ones who are putting their backs to the sun and getting into the field so that all of us can have fresh groceries, whether at the table or whether at the store.”

More than 5 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States. It’s been more than 20 years since the Environmental Protection Agency updated or revised its agricultural worker-safety standards for pesticide use.

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Changes to protect farm workers

The farmworkers and advocates are calling for the following changes to the Worker Protection Standard of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act:

•Provide more frequent and more comprehensible pesticide safety training for farmworkers.

•Include information about farmworker families’ exposures to pesticides in the required training materials.

•Ensure that workers receive information about specific pesticides used in their work.

•Require safety precautions and protective equipment limiting farmworkers’ contact with pesticides.

•Require medical monitoring of workers who handle neurotoxic pesticides.

In a prepared statement by Dr. Ed Zuroweste, migrant clinician network’s chief medical officer, said “As a physician caring for farmworkers, I can only do so much to treat a farmworker over-exposed to pesticides. But the problem of farmworkers and pesticides goes much deeper than what I see and can do in the exam room. I am often frustrated that what could easily be avoided by prevention is much more difficult and unsatisfactory to diagnose and treat after a pesticide exposure. It is the responsibility of our protective agencies to safeguard our workers. The proposed changes to the Worker Protection Standards are a step in the right direction to keep the people who work tirelessly to put food on our tables, safer on the job.”
Source: July 15

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