Farmworkers from around the country are spoke out about the need for improved protections from pesticide exposure in their workplaces.
“There were times when we would see our coworkers that would start having hives and itching in the skin, with swollen hands, with headaches and sneezing; we all confused these symptoms with a common cold. It would just be left as that; we didn’t receive any information and if we asked we wouldn’t receive any answers,” said Miguel Zelaya, a farmworker, a father, and a part organizer for the Farmworker Association of Florida. “Our co-workers’ kids would play close to the fields that had been sprayed without any precaution. No one knew of the dangers of pesticides,” he said.
From the Farmworker Association in Florida, Ofelia from Homestead, Miguel and his daughter, Selena, from Central Florida have joined other farmworkers and allies visiting Washington, D.C. this week to call on Congress to protect the health of farmworkers and their families by strengthening the Worker Protection Standard regulations. These rules were established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set agricultural worker safety standards for pesticide use, but have not been updated or revised for more than 20 years, despite overwhelming evidence of their inadequacy.
The nation’s 1-2 million farmworkers form the backbone of the U.S. agricultural economy and many are regularly exposed to pesticides. The federal government estimates that there are 10,000-20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually, a figure that likely understates the actual number of acute poisonings since many affected farmworkers may not seek care from a physician.
“The continued neglect of farmworker protections by our regulatory bodies is unacceptable. After a significant number of cases and evidence of the serious health impacts farmworkers face by pesticide poisoning, it’s time for the Environmental Protection Agency to fully enforce established regulations and farmworker protections,” said Hector Sanchez, Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and head of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda .