Pesticide Exposure and Farmworker Protection

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People working a field despite clear "danger" sign from recent pesticide application. (Photo: Patricia Carrillo)

Farmers work a field despite clear "danger" sign from recent pesticide application. (Photo: Patricia Carrillo)

“They applied a pesticide in the field the other day at work and the supervisor told us to let him know if our toes or feet start feeling numb. They said the pesticide is strong and if this happens or if we start to feel dizzy we need to go see the doctor.”

This is what Maria Reyes’ husband would tell her some days as he had dinner after work. After working as a farmworker for 42 years in the Salinas Valley, Reyes’s husband was diagnosed with cancer and passed away shortly after the diagnosis. “The doctor said it could have been caused by the pesticides, and I think that it’s true,” Reyes said.

As described here previously, pesticide exposure is a major health issue in Salinas. A range of pesticide-related illnesses and injuries are on the rise in the community including some cancers and birth defects. Because of the dangers of pesticide exposure, the Environmental Protection Agency created a worker protection guide to teach safe handling of pesticides and is required by law. In particular, farmworkers should wear clothes that cover their skin, they must not enter fields that have warning signs posted, and they should never bring children to the work area.

Agriculture employers have some basic responsibilities and duties that they must comply with. For example, three types of information must be displayed in areas that are accessible by workers both prior to and up to 30 days after applying any type of pesticide to a field. The required information includes pesticide-specific application information, emergency information including the name of the nearest medical emergency facility, and a pesticide safety poster.

Although some precautions are taken to make sure workers are protected, pesticide residue lingers on the plants and is a hazard to anyone that is entering the field. Pesticides can often be deadly if not handled appropriately and even more so when employers are negligent and don’t respect the restricted entry intervals. While community groups have conducted extensive advocacy and education efforts, some employers do not comply with regulations. This is illustrated in the picture that accompanies this blog. Although there is a pesticide application warning sign at the edge of the field saying workers should not enter the field, a crew is nonetheless working the field. This is considered a serious violation under the Worker Protection Standards. If caught, employers who violate these standards can face serious fines. But these fines are after the fact, after farmworkers have been exposed.

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About Patricia Carrillo

ABOUT PATRICIA CARRILLO I am a life-time resident of Salinas, California, located within Monterey County. I come from a largely farm-working and immigrant community: the East Side of Salinas. Since childhood I have become aware of many of the health issues and injustices that plague the farm-working population and my community as a whole. Because of this I have always been interested in health issues, and after obtaining my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from San Jose State University in 2004, I decided to pursue a career that would help me become a leader within my community and help to address some of the health issues that are affecting it. For the past five years I have been working for the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association, a local non-profit organization that trains aspiring organic farmers. My position there has helped to broaden my knowledge of health issues in my community. I hope that I can provide readers a deeper understanding of Salinas, including the health issues that affect the city and what the community is doing in response to these problems. Despite being known mostly for the prevalence of gang violence, there are many wonderful things happening in Salinas that will help to improve the health of our community and shape its future for generations to come.

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