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From March 3, 2005

Washington State Proposes Bill To Protect Farm Worker Health
(Beyond Pesticides, March 3, 2005)
In response to a recent push from farm worker groups Washington Representative Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, has just proposed a state Bill to protect farm workers from pesticides.

House Bill 1863 calls for improved systems for worker safety regarding toxic pesticides and advocates the phase out of these materials by 2012.

Washington farm worker groups have been strongly advocating policy reform in light of recent medical tests confirming the health effects of pesticide exposure in farm workers and their children and a corresponding report. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Board, after a 2002 decision by the Washington Supreme Court a testing program began a year ago under a rule adopted by the state Department of Labor and Industries to study the impact of pesticides on farm worker health. About a month ago the results of these tests prompted advocacy groups to publish, Messages from Monitoring, in hopes of seeing change. (For more background information on the report and farm worker groups see Daily News stories from 2/17/05 and 2/8/05.) The report has resulted in representative Conway proposing this bill, hopefully one step toward better protecting farm workers.

Groups opposing the Bill argue that it will hurt business and lead to massive job loss. According to a trade online source, Dean Boyer, of the state’s Farm Bureau, states ‘It’s hard to see how a bill like Conway’s, which would put thousands of farms out of business and leave tens of thousands of workers without jobs, could be called a worker-protection bill,’ he said. 'Conway’s bill would be more accurately described as a food-outsourcing bill.’

This argument comes up often when pesticide phase-outs are suggested. Yet, there has never been any evidence that a phase-out of pesticides such as chlordane, DDT, or others have materialized in a mass loss of jobs as the opponents predicted. The long phase-out in the Bill of 2012 leaves ample time for farmers to find less toxic alternatives.

Most if not all of the toxic pesticides involved in this Bill have existing alternatives. For example, see alternatives to chlorpyrifos.

TAKE ACTION: The United Farm Workers (UFW) has created a nationwide effort to petition the U.S. EPA to re-establish a national monitoring program for pesticides, which does not currently exist. Sign this petition now. Also, write to U.S. EPA Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson and demand adequate protection for farm workers from the dangers of pesticides. Washington state citizens contact your state legislators and let them know what you think of H.B. 1863 to protect Washington farm workers. For reference use the report.