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From March 21, 2005

Birth Defects in Babies of Farmworkers Spark Investigation
(Beyond Pesticides, March 21, 2005)
Three babies of farmworkers linked only by the fields in which their mothers picked tomatoes in Immokalee Florida were born with severe birth defects, according to the Associated Press and the Miami Herald. One baby was born without arms or legs. The other was born with Pierre Robin syndrome, which is an underdeveloped jaw that causes his tongue to fall into his throat with the risk of choking. The third child was missing a nose, ear and sexual organs, and died after three days. The state announced that it would being an investigation.

According to press reports, the three women who gave birth to these babies and the fathers all lived within 200 feet of one another at the same migrant labor in Immokolee, called Tower Cabins, and all tomatoes when they became pregnant in 2004. Dale Dubberly, chief, Bureau of Compliance Monitoring, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, told The Palm Beach Post that the defects ”may have nothing to do with pesticides, but we’ll try to get the facts.”

The newspaper accounts say that posted at the entrance to the field where the farmworkers worked is a sign that lists the use of 38 different pesticide products involving 30 chemicals. The farm belongs to Ag-Mart Produce company.

AP continues, “Between 1993 and 2003, Ag-Mart was cited three times by state inspectors for violations of pesticide regulations at other fields. The violations involved failure to keep workers out of fields for a sufficient time after chemicals have been used, failure to provide proper protective equipment and failure to keep proper records of pesticide and herbicide use.” Company president Don Long, who says that the company has resolved past problems, is quoted as saying, “We're looking into the issue of children born with birth defects to women who may have worked for our company.”

The state official in charge of maintaining reports of pesticide poisoning, Kim Hainge, says the reporting system does not work. AP reports her as saying, “In 2004, we received only four such reports. In 2003, it was all of eight. I know it can’t be accurate.”

TAKE ACTION: Contact Dale Dubberly, chief, Bureau of Compliance Monitoring, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, to express your concern and see how his investigation is going, 850-48-8731, dubberd@doacs.state.fl.us.

Identify what your state does regarding the reporting of pesticide poisoning and the protection of farmworkers. To identify your state’s contact information , go to Beyond Pesticides’ states webpage. Let Beyond Pesticides know what you find out.