Daily News Archive
Disproportionately Vulnerable to Pesticide Exposure
(Beyond Pesticides, October 26, 2004) Many Latinos
suffer more from environmental health problems than the general population,
according to a report released by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
The report, “Hidden
Danger: Environmental Health Threats in the Latino Community,”
is available in Spanish and English.
Latinos, who now comprise the majority in some of the nation's most
polluted urban and agricultural areas, are particularly threatened by
air pollution, agricultural pesticides, and other contaminants such
as lead and mercury. Exposure to these contaminants can cause serious
health problems, including asthma and cancer; giardiasis, hepatitis,
cholera and other waterborne diseases; and neurological and developmental
The report found that too often government authorities, businesses,
farm operators and landlords fail to provide warnings in Spanish about
environmental health threats, while federal and state agencies have
not collected relevant data or conducted studies assessing environmental
health threats in Latino communities.
"We have an information gap," said Adrianna Quintero, author
of the report and NRDC's director of Latino outreach. "On the one
hand, government agencies have not done an adequate job investigating
the link between pollution and Latino health. On the other hand, those
agencies, businesses and other authorities have not adequately warned
the Latino community about the health risks we know are there. No matter
how you slice it, Latinos are not getting the information they need
to protect themselves."
The environmental problems described in the report range from mercury
contamination and air pollution to arsenic in drinking water and pesticide
exposure. The report provides some sobering statistics:
Nearly 26 million of the 38.8 million Latinos in the United States
live in areas that violate federal air quality standards (page 9).
Many Latino communities across the United States have poor drinking
water quality. For example, drinking water supplies in Albuquerque
and Ajo, Arizona, have elevated levels of arsenic (page 32), while
12 percent of the residents in the U.S.-Mexico border region do not
have access to potable water (page 28).
Nearly 90 percent of U.S. farmworkers are Latino, and many of these
laborers and their families are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides
Latino children are twice as likely as non-Hispanic white children
to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood (page 50).
Between 19 percent and 44 percent of Hispanic respondents to a recent
survey reported using mercury for magic or religious purposes. Researchers
estimate that 47,000 capsules of mercury are sold each year in New
York City alone for these activities (page 58).
Latino communities can better protect themselves from pollution-related
health problems, the report notes, but only with a concerted effort
by government and industry. The report recommends more government
funding for research to better identify the problems, as well as for
broader outreach to the Latino community. It also calls for federal
and state action to strengthen water and air quality safeguards, ban
or restrict the use of hazardous pesticides, and tighten controls
across the country are suffering more from industrial pollution,"
said Dr. Elena V. Ríos, president and CEO of the National Hispanic
Medical Association. "We need a lot more information from our local,
state and federal health authorities, and the Environmental Protection
Agency needs to do a better job enforcing the law. Not only would that
improve the health of the Latino community, it would improve the health
of all Americans."
TAKE ACTION: Speak out against farmworker’s
exposure to toxic chemicals. The Farm
Labor Organizing Committee details steps to take to get farmworkers
the rights that they deserve. We also recommend visiting the Farmworker
Justice Fund website for more information.