Target: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy
Goal: Demand that federal regulators ensure strong safeguards against pesticide poisoning
Roughly 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops in the U.S. annually. Among laborers in the agricultural industry in the United States, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 cases of acute pesticide poisoning every single year. While the immediate cause of these cases and the chemicals involved may vary from place to place and year to year, almost every single one of them could have been prevented by access to information and effective regulation. The federal guidelines for protecting workers from pesticide exposure, called the Worker Protection Standard, have not been updated in over two decades.
Farmworkers as a group in the U.S. have historically been subject to exploitation and mistreatment, largely because language and cultural barriers have prevented them from advocating for themselves and enforcing their own rights. Workers’ rights advocates have documented cases of laborers working in fields while cropdusters showered them with pesticides. In other incidents, pesticides being sprayed on neighboring fields drifted downwind into fields filled with workers, and although the workers were coughing and choking, they were ordered to keep working or lose their jobs. Acute pesticide poisoning can have very serious effects, including death, but even in patients who have never suffered from acute exposure, long term cumulative exposure can still result in cancer, birth defects, neurological impairment, and Parkinson’s Disease.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—the federal agency responsible for the Worker Protection Standard—is currently developing new rules to better protect farmworkers from exploitation and exposure to toxic chemicals. The new rules need to mandate, at minimum, that all workers be given information—in their language of choice—about the chemicals that they will be exposed to, training on safe use of the chemicals, and proper equipment to minimize chemical exposure. Let the EPA know that you support the strongest possible safeguards for protecting the health of farmworkers and their families.
Dear Administrator McCarthy,
The poisoning of farmworkers through pesticide exposure is a human rights violation that should never happen anywhere, let alone in a country like the United States. Agricultural laborers feed this country, and they deserve equal rights to health and protection from harm as anyone else.
Other hazardous professions in the U.S. have long enjoyed strong federal environmental and health protections, and it’s time that farmworkers did too. Please ensure that the new Worker Protection Standard is up to the standards we would all want for our own families.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: yourownfood.org