(Beyond Pesticides, June 19, 2009) Farmworker unions, support groups, and worker advocacy organizations today asked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to stop the pesticide poisoning of farmworker communities and uphold the Obama administration’s commitment to environmental justice. Citing a long EPA history of “inhumane neglect of toxic pesticide effects on farmworker community health,” the groups asked the Administrator to amend a recent May 2009 decision that allows the continued use of hazardous soil fumigant pesticides. The chemicals when used in chemically treated crop production, such as tomatoes, carrots, strawberries and nuts, escape into the environment and drift into communities where the families and children of farmworkers live and play.
The letter, signed by 28 groups from across the country, says that the new fumigants policy “continues an outdated EPA approach to pesticide regulation that adopts unrealistic and unenforceable standards as risk mitigation measures, in an age of safer, greener approaches to agricultural pest management.”
EPA announced its decision May 27, 2009 to allow continued use of toxic soil fumigants with modified safety measures, falling far short of safety advocate efforts to adopt more stringent use restrictions and chemical bans. The rule was first proposed in July 2008, but weakened as it was finalized by EPA under industry pressure. Advocates believe that the country can do better to phase out the uses of highly hazardous chemicals that have devastating impact on exposed workers and communities in which they are used, and advance green technologies and organic practices.
Pesticides affected by the decision include chloropicrin, dazomet, metam sodium/potassium (including methyl isothiocyanate or MITC), and methyl bromide. Fumigants are associated with a range of acute respiratory and central nervous system effects, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, tremors and incoordination, muscle weakness, and skin irritation. Long term effects can include brain damage and seizures.
In releasing the decision in May, Administrator Jackson said, “With new restrictions, we’re allowing the continued use of fumigant pesticides without risking human health and the environment.”
Key to the EPA’s policy is a “buffer zone” requirement that is intended to establish restricted areas that are subject to chemical drift and therefore should be unoccupied. Advocates criticize the agency’s buffer zone provision as severely limited and question its enforceability. Of specific concern, is the provision that allows residential areas (including housing, commercial buildings, and other indoor and outdoor areas that people occupy) in the buffer zone if, “The occupants provide written agreement that they will voluntarily vacate the buffer zone during the entire buffer zone period.” Advocates believe workers will (i) feel pressured to sign such waivers for fear of loss of employment, (ii) not have adequate information with which to make informed choices, and (iii) be subject to evacuations during chemical releases. The groups cite the evacuation waiver as a dangerous chemicals policy precedent that would for the first time be used only in farmworker and underserved communities.
Since it was first proposed in July 2008, EPA has weakened the proposed rule by: eliminating home testing priority to reentry except for high concentrations of methyl bromide; reducing reentry times for workers removing fumigant tarps from 24 to 2 hours after perforation; allowing buffer zones to overlap, affecting the people who live closest to the fields; and, no longer requiring air monitoring (except for methyl bromide), instead allowing workers to experience exposure symptoms before triggering additional protections.
See the letter at www.beyondpesticides.org/watchdog/fumigants/letter-6-18-09.pdf.
* Jay Feldman, Executive Director, Beyond Pesticides, Washington, DC, 202-543-5450.
* Anne Kattan, Pesticide and Work Safety Project Dir., CA Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Sacramento, CA, 916-446-7901.
* David Chatfield, Director, Californians for Pesticide Reform, San Francisco, CA, 415-981-3939.
* Sandra Garcia, President, Campesinas Unidas de Tulare County, Ducor, CA, 559-577-3797.
* Lupe Martinez, Director of Organizing, Center on Race Poverty and the Environment, Delano, CA, 661-720-9140.
* Victor Contreras, Executive Director, Centro Campesino, Owatonna, MN, 507-446-9599.
* Luis R. Cabrales, Senior Campaign and Outreach Associate, Coalition for Clean Air, Los Angeles, CA, 213-630-1192.
* Greg Asbed, Staff, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Immokalee, FL, 239-657-8311.
* Nelson Carrasquillo, General Coordinator, El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas, Glassboro, NJ, 856-881-2507.
* Irma Medellin, Director, El Quinto Sol de America, Lindsay, CA, 559-827-7786.
* Pamela King Palitz, Environmental Health Staff Attorney, Environment California, Sacramento, CA, 916-446-8062.
* Bill Hamilton, Sponsor, Environmental Youth Council, Florida, St. Augustine, FL, 904-471-0440.
* Baldemar Velasquez, President, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Toledo, OH, 419-243-3456.
* Carol Dansereau, Executive Director, Farm Worker Pesticide Project, Seattle, WA, 206-729-0498.
* Tirson Moreno, General Coordinator, Farmworker Association of Florida, Apopka, FL, 407-886-5151.
* Virginia Ruiz, Staff Attorney, Farmworker Justice, Washington, DC, 202-293-5420.
* Margarita Romo, Director, Farmworker Self-Help, Dade City, FL, 352-567-1432.
* Jose T. Bravo, Director, Just Transition Alliance, Chula Vista, CA, 619-838-6694.
* Mily Treviño-Sauceda, Executive Director, Lideres Campesinas, Oxnard, CA, 805-486-7776.
* Bert Perry, Director, National Farmworker Ministry, St. Louis, MO, 314-726-6470.
* Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director, Pesticide Action Network North America, San Francisco, CA, 415-981-1771.
* Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, 213-689-9170.
* Ramon Ramirez, President, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Woodburn, OR, 503-982-0243.
* Sheila Davis, Executive Director, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, San Jose, CA, 408-287-6707.
* Lionel Lopez, Director, South Texas Colonia Initiative, Corpus Christi, TX, 361-854-5248.
* Mary Bauer, Director of the Immigrant Justice Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, AL, 334-956-8200.
* Teresa Niedda, Director, The Farmworker Health and Safety Institute, Glassboro, NJ, 856-881-2507.
* Erik Nicholson, Vice-President, United Farm Workers, Tacoma, WA, 253-274-0416.