Daily News Archive
From January 15, 2004

EPA Sued For Allowing Unacceptable Pesticide Risks to Farmerworkers
(Beyond Pesticides, January 15, 2004)
Farmworker groups filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Environmental Protection Agency for approving the reregistration of two organophosphate pesticides, azinphos-methyl (AZM) and phosmet, that they say continue to poison workers, their children, communities and the environment.

Azinphos-methyl and phosmet are highly toxic neurotoxins routinely used in the United States which can major short- and long-term illnesses including dizziness, vomiting, seizures, paralysis, loss of mental function, and death. Farmworker children and people who live within one quarter-mile of fields have four to five times more chemicals in their bodies from exposure to organophosphates, including AZM, than other individuals. More than 75% of reported poisonings occur either when farmworkers are exposed to pesticides that drift away from where they are applied, or when workers are exposed to pesticide residues, often upon re-entering treated fields. Farmworker families and communities are further exposed to organophosphates through “take-home” exposures on clothing, cars, and skin that then get trapped indoors or closed living quarters.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Seattle by attorneys with Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice Fund, California Rural Legal Assistance, and the Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of Sea Mar Community Health Centers, United Farm Workers of America (UFW), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), National Campaign Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), and Frente Indígena Oaxaqueña Binacional.

“It is outrageous that EPA authorized the use of these pesticides, putting thousands of workers at risk of serious illness every year,” said Erik Nicholson of the United Farmworkers of America. “These two pesticides can poison so many farmworkers that EPA found the risks unacceptable, but the agency still allowed them to be used.”

The plaintiffs claim that there were severe deficiencies in the re-registration of the two pesticides. They argue that the EPA has continued to allow uses of the pesticides without considering the. They also argued that EPA’s cost-benefit analysis was skewed toward the estimated economic value of using the two pesticides and failed to adequately quantify the magnitude of the risks posed to workers, their children, communities, and the environment. They further claim that EPA discounted the use of safe and proven alternatives and used industry-generated data without subjecting it to the light of public scrutiny.

“We are asking the federal district court to overturn EPA’s unlawful authorization of these extremely toxic pesticides,” said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, “and to force EPA to consider the magnitude of the harm to workers, and proven alternatives that are less harmful to farmworkers and communities.”

This action comes on the heals of an updated report focused on California called Fields of Poison 2002 released in September 2002 by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and two of the groups involved in the lawsuit. The report reveals that pesticide safety laws fail to protect many of the state's 700,000 farmworkers from poisonings even when the laws are apparently followed.

AZM and phosmet are mostly used to kill pests on orchard crops such as apples, cherries, pears, preaches, and nectarines. The highest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Farmworkers are distressed throughout the nation and federal law provides little relief. In 1996, EPA dealt a severe blow to the Worker Protection Standards created in 1974. The policy change allowed workers who had never received pesticide training to work five days in the fields without any information about the dangers. The new standards also reduced the number of days that growers must provide water for hand-washing (one gallon for every worker) from one month to one week for certain pesticides. Not surprisingly, two years later, skin rashes reported by field workers began to climb. In 1998, the rate was about 11 cases per 10,000 workers. By 2001, the rate jumped to nearly 27 cases per 10,000 workers, among the highest for any occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For more information contact Jay Feldman at 202-543-5450 or
Grant Cope, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 ex. 25
Patti Goldman, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 ex. 32
Aaron Colangelo, NRDC, 202-289-6868
Erik Nicholson, UFW, 206-255-5774
Ramon Ramirez, PCUN, 503-982-0243 x201
Shelley Davis, FJF, 202-783-2628