Originally published in the Salinas Californian. Access online at https://www.thecalifornian.com/story/opinion/2018/05/04/opinion-we-must-protect-salinas-farmworkers-pesticides/581069002/
California accounts for approximately 21 percent of all agricultural pesticide use in the country. Salinas is considered one of the major cities with agriculture production.
In Salinas, many farmworkers are being negatively impacted by the pesticides exposure in the agricultural fields. Chronic diseases, such as cancer and asthma are caused by pesticides, affecting the farmworkers and their families. Major part as to why farmworkers are being affected by pesticides is because farmworkers lack pesticides literacy.
Farmworkers are not being properly trained and educated in pesticides, how to protect themselves and how to protect their families. The General Duty Clause, standardized by OSHA states employers must provide their employees a workplace free from hazards that can cause harm to employees.
Also, the General Duty Clause states that employers must follow with health and safety regulations. Growers must provide pesticide literacy to farmworkers to protect their health and safety at work. Personal protective equipment must be provided at work: face masks, boots, gloves, sleeve arm protectors, hats and unvented goggles.
Pesticides are inhaled and consumed by farmworkers. In Salinas, farmworkers are exposed to pesticides many hours every day that can cause chronic diseases in the long run in farmworkers. Some of the chronic diseases that pesticides can cause: elevated risks of cancers, neurobehavioral deficits, congenital malformations, leukemia and neoplasm.
The pesticides accumulate over time in the body when one is exposed. Pesticides with low acute toxicity such as organic mercury compounds and some organochlorine compounds can accumulate in the body and cause chronic toxicity after long-term exposure even in comparatively low doses.
Most farmworkers do not recognize the symptoms of toxicity from pesticides; therefore, it is very important that they are aware of the importance of protecting themselves from pesticides. Health care can be an issue when farmworkers are exposed and end up not seeking medical attention because it is too expensive.
Farmworkers carry residues of pesticides on their clothing and bring it home with them. Children are physiologically and neurologically at greater risks for pesticide exposure and pesticide reaction. Children spend most of their time playing on the house floor and is where most pesticides residues remain.
Children who are exposed to pesticides have higher risks of childhood cancers, neurobehavioral effects and congenital malformation. Farmworkers must be educated on the residues of pesticides on their clothes and shoes and how to avoid bringing them to home. Health and safety policies must be implemented at work for the health and well-being of the workforce.
It is the responsibility of the growers, managers, and supervisors to ensure that the occupational health and safety policies are being implemented to protect farmworkers health and wellbeing. By protecting farmworkers under the health and safety policies, they will spend less time in doctor visits, hospitals and time off due to the negative side effects of pesticides. By maintaining farmworkers healthy at work, growers will spend less time dealing with workers compensation bills due to worker pesticide intoxication.
Farmers will be more successful in providing product to the market, thus positively impacting the company’s bottom line.
Farmworkers have the right to be educated on how to protect themselves and their families against pesticide exposure. Consumers, markets owners, restaurants owners, people who need fresh fruits and vegetables for their business to be up and running should form part of the advocacy to protect farmworkers and their family’s health and wellbeing from pesticide exposure.
There are programs in Salinas that are advocating for pesticides health issues in farmworkers: The United Farm Workers and CHAMACOS. Let’s all help with the advocacy of the importance that the Salinas California community of farmworkers has pesticide literacy to protect their health. By advocating the health issue growers will be more aware of the problem and they will be more willing to act to protect farm workers against pesticide exposure. Whenever you eat fruits, and vegetables think about those farmworkers who are being affected by pesticide exposure. We must protect farm workers who cut and produce the fresh vegetables that we eat every day.
Brenda Fernandez is a public health graduate student at San Jose State University and former resident of Watsonville and Monterey.