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Daily News Blog

22
Jun

Pollinator Week: We Protect People at Greatest Risk When We Protect Pollinators and the Environment from Toxic Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, June 22, 2020) In the wake of the national groundswell for equity and justice in the face of rampant inequality and police brutality against people of color, we acknowledge, during Pollinator Week, holistic actions are needed to solve systemic societal problems that cause racial disparities. Those fighting for environmental justice understand that the harms inflicted by toxic chemical production and use cause disproportionate adverse effects on people of color—from fenceline communities near chemical production plants, to the hazardous and inhumane working conditions in agricultural fields, to the elevated risk factors for black and brown people from toxic pesticide exposure patterns. 

Pollinator Week reminds us that we must nurture the ecosystem, which we depend on for life, with a fierce commitment to its inhabitants and a focus on those at highest risk. Therefore, this week is a time to renew our commitment to environmental justice and seek the adoption of policies and practices in our communities, and across the nation and the world, that recognize the urgency to address the disproportionate harm inflicted by toxic pesticide use. 

TAKE ACTION! Here are three things you can do today.

Protect Low-Income and People of Color Communities—As The Black Institute in New York City wrote in its report, Poison Parks (2020), “Unfortunately, people of color that live in low-income neighborhoods bear the brunt of poor environmental policy and suffer from environmental racism.” 

As quoted in the report by Reverend Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., founder of the United Church Commission on Racial Justice, “Environmental racism is racial discrimination in environmental policy-making. It is racial discrimination in the enforcement of regulation and laws, in the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and the siting of polluting industries. It is racial discrimination in the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of color; and, it is racial discrimination in the history of excluding people of color from mainstream environmental groups, decision-making boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies.”

People in communities of color are more likely to be exposed to toxic pesticides and other forms of pollution. As white and more affluent communities influence law and policy to stop industrial site construction and toxic chemical exposure, polluting industries target low-income and people of color areas. While wealthy and white individuals have the opportunity to manage their lawns without toxic pesticides, low-income and black and brown families, particularly those in urban areas with dense housing, often have public parks as their only green space. In its report, The Black Institute documents New York City public spaces in low-income people of color communities being sprayed with the weed killer glyphosate at significantly higher rates than other parts of the city. 

Green space is a critical component of a healthy ecosystem that we depend on for public health. Studies find that throughout the country, urban low-income and people of color communities have less access to healthy outdoor areas. Poisoning the few parcels of green space communities of color have access to is a grave injustice. By expanding access to pesticide-free green spaces, we expand the ability for people in low-income and people of color communities to experience the joy and wonders of the natural world. Creating these lasting connections with the natural world is interwoven with a healthy ecosystem that supports critical species, such as pollinators. We protect people when we protect pollinators.

Protect Workers—Farmworkers are at disproportionate risk of pesticide poisoning. According to Farmworker Justice, 76% of all farmworkers identify as Latino/Hispanic. Most are men; 28% are female. The majority are married with children. For the critical work they perform, farmworkers receive poverty wages, averaging under $20,000 a year. The average life expectancy for a farmworker is 49 years, compared to 78 for the general population. This is similar to the life expectancy of individuals living in the 1850s. 

Farmworkers are not covered under the laws of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), but by inadequate federal pesticide law known as worker protection regulations, governed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It took over 25 years to introduce modest updates to these rules (under the Obama Administration in 2015), but the Trump Administration immediately began to unwind farmworker safeguards. The Administration recently put forth proposals that would eliminate, reduce, or weaken application exclusion zones (buffer areas where individuals are not supposed to enter during a pesticide application) and curtail labor rights for both foreign and domestic farmworkers.

As Farmworker Justice wrote, “At the same time that the Administration seeks to transform the farm labor force of 2.4 million people into a workforce of 21st-century indentured servants, it is demonizing hard-working immigrants and ratcheting up cruel, heartless and counterproductive arrests and deportations, targeting many of our nation’s current experienced and valued farmworkers.”
Protecting farmworkers from toxic chemicals will lead to heathier foods and healthier pollinator populations. Demand justice and just conditions; stand in solidarity with farmworkers. 

Demand Food Justice—Low-income and people of color are more likely to live in areas with little to no access to fresh, healthy foods. Moreover, when there is some access to this food, fruits and vegetables are often prohibitively expensive. Farmers markets and organic products are often out of reach due to their expense, distance, and operating times

Foods that are most affordable are often conventional products treated with toxic pesticides. Not only do these chemicals put individuals at greater risk of pesticide induced diseases, they also poison farmworkers and their families. 

Increasing people’s access to healthy, pesticide-free foods will protect pollinators. Declines in pollinator populations are likely to increase global malnutrition and disease. Vulnerable communities are most likely to be impacted by this effect. Produce will not disappear overnight, but become increasingly expensive and out of reach, particularly for those already living in areas with precarious access to fresh foods. 

Support Black Lives Matter—A systemically racist culture that does not respect the rights of low-income and black and brown people is not one with the capacity to solve the pollinator crisis; it is not one that can help repair the natural world. Beyond Pesticides stands with Black Lives Matter. Read our statement. This week and from now on, support, through your time and energy and donations, organizations that are working to advance black food sovereignty, and farmworker rights

TAKE ACTIONThree Things You Can Do Today

  1. Make your local green spaces places where community and local ecology thrive. Get pesticides out of your local parks and playing fields by pushing for the adoption of organic land management policies. For information and strategies you can use, see Beyond Pesticides Tools for Change.
  2. Stand up for farmworkers. Tell your congressional representative and senators that EPA must protect farmworkers from toxic pesticide exposure
  3. Make a donation to The Black Institute. The Black Institute isn’t a think-tank, it’s an action-tank. Through a head, heart, and feet strategy, TBI injects new ideas for achieving racial equity and justice into the policy realm. The Black Institute is a leader in advancing organic land management legislation in New York City that bans toxic pesticides. Donate now.

Thank you!
The Beyond Pesticides Team

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  • Archives

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