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From February 17, 2005

ACTION: Sign Petition For EPA To Restart National Pesticide Monitoring
(Beyond Pesticides, February 17, 2005) The United Farm Workers (UFW) has created a nationwide effort to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to re-establish a national monitoring program for pesticides, which does not currently exist.

The petition follows on the heals of the recently released report, Messages from Monitoring, and a call to Washington Governor Gregoire and the Bush Administration to take immediate action to protect farm workers in light of disturbing medical monitoring results in Washington State. The report, produced by the Farmworker Justice Fund, the Farm Worker Pesticide Project and UFW, found that 20.6 percent, or one in five farm workers, tested in the state of Washington showed signs of overexposure to dangerous pesticides including significant cholinesterase depression. About 5 percent of pesticide handlers had to be removed from handling activities due to overexposure. The report also recommends policy reforms at both the state and federal levels, including a phase out of the highest toxicity classes of organophosphate pesticides. (See Daily News.)

“The Washington results only reinforce what farmworkers already know: existing protections are not adequate. Let's not wait another 16 years for another state to require this program. It's time for the EPA to implement a national medical monitoring program that ensures farm workers are not overexposed to these toxic chemicals,” says UWF.

Pesticide-induced illness is a serious public health issue given the widespread use of hazardous pesticides throughout our society – from our farms to our homes, schools, and parks.

EPA did have a national system called Pesticide Incident Monitoring System (PIMS) for over a decade until in 1981 when it was closed down within the first year of the Reagan Administration. Since that time, the federal government has relied on states to conduct monitoring and regulatory programs to protect agricultural and other workers and residents.

However, state officials are unable to evaluate the health impact that pesticides may be having in the state because pesticide poisoning is not a reportable medical or health event. Only eight states have taken initiative to put in place statutes that require some kind of collection of this data. (The states include Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington.)

In a 1995 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report, GAO wrote, "According to EPA staff, data on incidents of exposure played a significant part in 19 instances in which the agency took measures to protect the public health between 1989 and 1994." In a similar report in 2000, GAO clearly spells out the deficiencies in the four databases that EPA uses to track acute pesticide incidents and illnesses and concludes, "Officials from these agencies that collect data on pesticide illnesses confirmed that a lack of comprehensive national data exists . . . for the general population…"

For more information, see GAO testimony which supports the need for pesticide illness reporting and education legislation in every state by John Stephenson, and Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides.

TAKE ACTION: Sign UFW Petition, contact your state legislators and members of Congress and write U.S. EPA Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson and demand adequate protection for farm workers from the dangers of pesticides and the need for a national pesticide monitoring program with legislation.