Farmworker groups call for advanced web-posting of pesticide applications
Bakersfield, CA – A pesticide drift incident in southwest Bakersfield this morning affected seventy farmworkers harvesting garlic. According to media reports, seven workers suffered exposure symptoms that included eye and skin irritation, nausea, and headache, and at least ten people were decontaminated at the site. According to the Kern County Ag Commissioner, the incident is under investigation but may have involved two highly hazardous pesticides: the soil fumigant metam sodium (product: Vapam) and chloprpyrifos (product: Vulcan). US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in March denied a petition to ban chlorpyrifos, a potent neurotoxin linked to autism, ADHD and IQ loss.
The incident is the latest in a series of four drift incidents since May that have sickened farmworkers in Kern, Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties. On May 5, Vulcan was suspected in the poisoning of a dozen farmworkers not far from this morning’s incident.
Eriberto Fernandez, organizer with United Farm Workers Foundation, was on site this morning to assess the situation and assist the victims. “Once again, it’s the people laboring in the harshest conditions to put food on the nation’s table who suffer the most harm when things go wrong,” he said. “When you have hazardous chemicals being applied as soil fumigants or sprayed into the air, it’s inevitable some of it is going to drift away from its intended target. The alarming number of incidents over the past two months highlight how impossible it is to control drift. We must do better to protect agricultural communities, farmworkers and their children from accidental poisoning.”
Local community organizer Valerie Gorospe with Delano-based Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, also visited the site this morning. “This is the second time in less than 2 months that brain-harming chlorpyrifos has been implicated in an incident in the Bakersfield area,” she said. “It’s unconscionable that we continue to allow its use, knowing what we know about the harm it causes to the brain development of children.”
Gorospe and Fernandez also expressed frustration at the lack of transparency with which pesticide applications are made. “As a matter of public health and common sense, we call on regulators to require the County Agricultural Commissioners to post notices on their websites when hazardous pesticides are being applied near our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces,” said Fernandez. “People have a right to know, and hopefully to protect themselves and their families from harm.”
The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) is a Delano-based environmental justice litigation organization dedicated to helping grassroots groups across the United States with problems related to the disproportionate burden of pollution borne by poor people and people of color. They provide organizing, technical and legal assistance to help community groups stop immediate environmental threats.
The UFW Foundation through its service centers is on the frontline of narrowing the gap of information immigrants and farm workers need to successfully navigate American society—whether they seek legal advice, know your rights information, are exposed to pesticides or want to report abuses at work.