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Home > OTA applauds EPA steps to safeguard health of farmworkers

OTA applauds EPA steps to safeguard health of farmworkers

pesticides farmworker health

The Organic Trade Association and The Organic Center applaud the steps that the EPA has taken to safeguard the health of farmworkers, who are essential for putting food on our tables.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced updates to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) designed to minimize farmworker exposure to harmful pesticides nationwide. These include prohibiting children from handling or applying pesticides, establishing no-entry and exclusion zones to protect farm workers and others from pesticide drift, and improving requirements on personal protective equipment.

One of the most important ways that we can protect our farmworkers is by supporting organic agriculture.  Because organic certified farming operations are prohibited from using most synthetic pesticides, organic farms ensure that farm workers, their families, and their communities are safe from the negative effects of toxic pesticide exposure.

Over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops in the United States annually, putting thousands of farmworkers their families and the surrounding community at risk.

Organic agriculture is the only system that uses certification and inspection to verify that toxic and persistent pesticides are not used. Consumers who want to support farmworker health and safety should choose organic when they shop.

Studies show that exposure to pesticides has immediate and long-term negative effects on human health. Immediate impacts of acute exposures vary from skin and eye irritation to vomiting or respiratory distress. Countless scientific publications have linked pesticide exposure to negative health outcomes and have provided strong evidence that, over time, exposure to certain pesticides is associated with serious illness including cancer of the prostate, colon, lung, pancreas, and bladder as well as myeloma, leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. (See this video by New York Times op-ed contributor Mark Bittman on a study in Salinas Valley, Calif., that documents how exposure to pesticides can have adverse health effects.)

Prenatal exposure to pesticides is also an exposure route of serious concern. Studies have linked prenatal exposure to pesticides to lower IQ, cognitive disabilities, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity in exposed children later on in life.

Furthermore, exposures are not confined strictly to those working near fields or handling pesticides.  Farm worker families are likely to be exposed when pesticides are carried home via clothing or shoes and surrounding communities are subject to exposure through low-level drift.

“The EPA’s updates to the Worker Protection Standard make significant strides in protecting our farmworkers from pesticide exposure, but organic agriculture is absolutely the best way to safeguard from the very real dangers that exposure to pesticide poses to human health. Organic agriculture, with its minimum use of synthetic pesticides, provides the greatest guarantee of safety,” said Dr. Jessica Shade, director of science programs at The Organic Center.

EPA’s action, while laudable, was long in the making and shows the need to support research on organic agricultural practices which would lead to more organic acres and a corresponding decrease in pesticide use and a decrease in the risk to the health and safety of our farmworkers.

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