(Beyond Pesticides, February 7, 2007) On January 19, 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessed the second highest penalty for violating worker protection provisions of U.S. pesticide laws to an agricultural company based in Puerto Rico. According to the EPA, Martex Farms has been ordered to pay a total penalty of $92,620 by EPA’s Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
Martex has been found liable for 170 alleged violations of EPA’s worker protection standards. The farm owners also failed to display specific pesticide application information for its agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, failed to provide them with decontamination materials, and failed to provide handlers with personal protective equipment.
The recent decision, rendered by the ALJ, underscores EPA’s position that failing to provide agricultural workers and pesticide handlers with specific pesticide application information on the same application constitutes separate, independent violations. In addition, this ruling reaffirms the requirement that every handler applying pesticides must be provided with personal protection equipment.
In January 2005, EPA filed a complaint against Martex for improperly using pesticides and endangering worker safety. Martex Farms grows, processes, packs and ships tropical fruits and plants. The family-owned business was established in 1989, and employs hundreds of people at its numerous facilities in Puerto Rico.
According to EPA, the worker protection standards are designed to reduce the risk of injury or illness to agricultural field workers resulting from exposure to pesticides. Agricultural workers may be injured from direct spray, drift, or residue left by pesticide applications. Pesticide handlers face additional risks from spills, splashes, inhalation, and inadequate protective equipment.
In 2005, national and state farm worker organizations called upon Washington State Governor Gregoire and the Bush Administration to take immediate action to protect farm workers in light of disturbing medical monitoring results. The groups co-released the report Messages from Monitoring, which discusses the results and other studies bearing on exposures experienced by farm workers and their children. The report criticized state and federal agencies for failing to protect the farm worker community, and it identified several Washington State actions that rolled back protections (see Daily News).
TAKE ACTION: Write to U.S.EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and demand adequate protection for farm workers from the dangers of pesticides.