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From March 15, 2005

Birth Defects in Farm Worker Children Leads to State Investigation
(Beyond Pesticides, March 15, 2005) In less than two months, three farmworkers at the Ag-Mart Produce farm in Immokalee, FL have given birth to children with severe birth defects. According to the Associated Press (AP), Carlos Candelario was born December 17, 2004 without appendages. On February 4, 2005 Jesus Navarrete, whose parents live about 100 feet away from the Candelario family, was born with an underdeveloped jaw that causes his tongue to fall into his throat, causing a choking risk. On February 6, Maria Meza gave birth to a child missing its nose, an ear and with no visible sexual organs. The child, first named Jorge, but renamed Violeta after a detailed examination determined she was a girl, died three days later of massive birth defects.

Two of the mothers worked in Ag-Mart Produce’s tomato fields into their seventh month of pregnancy and the other worked through her second month. They also lived just a few hundred feet of each other in a labor camp in close proximity to their work. The AP reported that the farm used 30 different chemicals, one of which was an herbicide, metribuzin, with known developmental effects.

Ag-Mart Produce has had violations of pesticide regulations regarding the application procedure three times in the past ten years. The coincidence of the circumstances surrounding these recent births, just four months ago, has lead to speculation about the link between pesticides and birth defects. “People have mentioned to me that maybe this has to do with chemicals,” Francisca Herrera, Carlos’s mother told the AP. “But I really don't know anything about that. I would like to know.”

Although these women have no history of birth defects in their family, and some have normal healthy children from births prior to working at Ag-Mart.Produce, officials are reluctant to confirm that pesticides cause birth defects. Dale Dubberly, chief state official for pesticide investigation, is currently looking into the case. Mr. Dubberly said the births “may have nothing to do with pesticides, but we'll try to get to the facts.”

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. For more information on pesticides linked to birth defects, see the following ChemWatch factsheets: abamectin, chlorothalonil, diflubenzuron, imidacloprid, malathion, permethrin, and triclopyr.