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Ag-Mart Settles Birth Defect Case

(Beyond Pesticides, March 28, 2008) Three years ago, Carlos Candelario was born without arms or legs and with spinal and lung deformities, birth defects caused by his mother’s exposure to multiple pesticides while working in Ag-Mart Produce fields during her pregnancy. His parents, Francisca Herrera and Abraham Candelario, sued the company in 2006, and last week’s settlement will provide for Carlos for the rest of his life, pending a judge’s approval.

“I am as gratified about this case as any I’ve ever handled,” said attorney Andrew Yaffa. “This child has tremendous needs and needed somebody willing to speak on his behalf. Every medical need will be taken care of as a result of this settlement.”

Ag-Mart has a history of state pesticide violations and use of extremely toxic pesticides (although in 2005, the company did agree to discontinue use of chemicals linked to reproductive risks, excepting methyl bromide, which is still in use). The company grows “UglyRipe” heirloom tomatoes and Santa Sweets grape tomatoes in a chemical-intensive operation. Ms. Herrera and Mr. Candelario worked alongside other migrant workers in North Carolina and Florida fields at the time of Ms. Herrera’s exposure. Both Florida and North Carolina have published reports on Ms. Herrara and two other women’s exposure to pesticides during pregnancy. (To view, click here.)

The suit included a long list of violations by the company, which defense lawyers corroborated with depositions of fellow migrant workers. They include: spraying fields with workers present; ordering workers to reenter recently sprayed fields before the recommended airing out period had passed; failing to provide protective equipment to workers; burning used pesticide containers next to fields and workers; applying pesticides up to three times as often as allowed by law; negligently using up to eighteen different chemicals on their crops; and intentionally ignoring state regulations pertaining to pesticides because “it felt that paying fines to the State was economically less expensive.”

Carlos’s mother was forced to work in tomato fields without gloves, and chemicals would dye her clothes and stick to her body. Beyond Pesticides board member Routt Reigart, M.D., former chair of the Committee on Environmental Health of the American Academy of Pediatrics, stated in a deposition that he believed Ms. Herrera was “heavily exposed” to a “witch’s brew” of pesticides early in her pregnancy.

Ag-Mart declined to comment on the settlement, but President Donald Long said in his deposition, “It doesn’t say on the label [of pesticides linked to birth defects] do not allow pregnant women to work in this, even though it has the warning that it might cause problems.” (For information on how pesticide labeling may become still less clear, click here.)

There is increasing research done showing the effects of pesticides on prenatal development. You can find more information in our Daily News Archive.

Sources: Palm Beach Post (and editorial), The News & Observer, Naples News, Associated Press (via Forbes)


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