On a cool November day in 2009, farmworker Jovita Alfau was transplanting hibiscus as she’d been instructed in a section of Power Bloom Farms and Growers nursery in Homestead, Fla.
As she began pulling up the seedlings from the pots, she began to “feel dizzy and weak, experienced numbness in her mouth and vomited,” according to a complaint she would later file against her employer in federal district court in southern Florida.
Alfau had no idea why she was feeling so ill, but lawyers from the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project representing her in the lawsuit learned through deposition that the area of the nursery where the hibiscus grew had been sprayed with the pesticide endosulfan less than 24 hours earlier, according to the lawsuit. Her employer allegedly failed to warn her about the required elapse time before it was safe to enter. Alfau had been wearing no protective gear.
Alfau alleges in the lawsuit that there were times when the applicators sprayed the nursery even while she and her fellow farmworkers were tending the plants.
The nursery denied wrongdoing, but settled with the then 43-year-old single mother of three in 2012 for $100,000. Asked by New America Media recently whether his nursery was still using endosulfan, Power Bloom president Steve Power said he had no comment.
It was pesticide poisonings like Alfau’s, as well as years of pressure from a broad coalition of environmentalists, health care advocates, farmworkers and scientists, that many believe was responsible for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement of a six-year phase-out of the pesticide in 2010.
The federal agency negotiated an agreement with the compound’s sole manufacturer, Makhteshim Agan, based in Israel at the time, to stop using the pesticide crop-by-crop.