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Farmworkers Association of Florida, Apopka

Why 2022 is crucial in the fight against child-harming pesticides

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The Farmworker's Association of Florida in Apopka is fighting for a ban on pesticides that cause leaning disabilities in children. They triumphed in part just this year when their coalition won a decades-long battle to ban one of the neurotoxic peticides (Chlorpyrifos). But there are more out there, and in 2022, they are calling  for a ban on ALL nerve agent pesticides used on our food. 

“Farmworker families across the country are raising children with learning disabilities, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental problems due largely to agricultural and dietary exposure to organophosphate pesticides, said Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida, Apopka. "With the least access to resources, these families struggle every day to make a living and provide the care they can for their offspring. Not only is this an incredible injustice to the men and women whose work feeds America, it is tragic for the children's futures. Our communities suffer. Banning OP pesticides is a public health and justice issue.”

The fight  ramps up

Last month, Earthjustice filed a petition along with a coalition of 10 health, community, and farmworker groups asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides, which are prevalent in our food and water, and endanger farmworkers and their families.  As mentioned above, the EPA recently banned all food uses of chlorpyrifos, the most well-known organophosphate pesticide, but only one among a dangerous pesticide group. Chlorpyrifos is just one of over a dozen organophosphates (OP) the agency reauthorized for use in agricultural fields, even though they are acutely neurotoxic — meaning that people who are exposed at high doses over a brief period can experience severe neurological symptoms — and are linked to neurodevelopmental harm to fetuses and infants.

Along with the petition, Earthjustice is releasing a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind report and data set collating 17 organophosphate human health risk assessments, as well as agricultural pesticide usage data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). This report documents the location and amount of organophosphate usage in the United States and the dangerous health effects associated with exposure. This powerful tool also shows what crops are sprayed, the foods that contain elevated levels of pesticide residues, and links to health risks evaluations and brief regulatory history. 

The report’s findings are staggering:

  • Certain regions are particularly at risk. Hot spots include central and southern Florida, as well as central and southern California, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, southern Georgia, and South Carolina.
  • Exposure to organophosphate pesticides occurs through multiple pathways. Farmworkers are most at risk, but people anywhere in the U.S. can be exposed through their drinking water, food, and the air they breathe. Infants and toddlers face greater harm from dietary exposure. Exposures to most of the organophosphates examined show infants and toddlers are exposed to dangerous levels, in some cases 100 times over EPA’s so-called levels of concern.
  • In addition to neurotoxicity, organophosphates are associated with other serious health effects. Nearly half of the 17 organophosphates reviewed were associated with reproductive harm or characterized as carcinogenic.
  • Organophosphate pesticide residues are widespread and found in concerning levels in the produce we eat and feed our families. Even though it is not legally allowed, residue was found on cilantro, basil, frozen strawberries, frozen spinach, mangoes, and sweet bell peppers; while residues found on raisins, mangoes, mustard greens, and snap peas exceeded allowable limits.
  • People living near fields where organophosphate pesticides are used can experience dangerous levels of exposure. Oral and skin exposures resulting from spray drift were associated with risk levels of concern for more than half of the organophosphates examined. Rural communities are already more vulnerable to harm than the general population because factors like poverty and racial injustice can make these communities much more vulnerable to negative health impacts.

“The EPA said it banned chlorpyrifos to protect children and workers from harm,” said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman. “But the EPA’s own data shows that all organophosphates are linked to intellectual disabilities, not just chlorpyrifos. The EPA must ban all organophosphates from food.”

Decades of scientific research show that exposure to organophosphates, particularly during pregnancy, can lead to reduced IQ, loss of working memory, and attention deficit disorders in children. Harms to children’s brains occur at even low levels of exposure, according to studies that tracked mothers and children. Furthermore, organophosphate can cause acute poisoning to farmworkers at allowable levels of exposure, even when workers wear the most protective equipment. In some cases, exposure can be lethal.

Earthjustice is co-petitioner with the United Farm Workers, United Farm Workers Foundation, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Justice, GreenLatinos, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, League of United Latin American Citizens, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Pesticide Action Network North America, and Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste.

How you can help

The Farmworkers Association of Florida in Apopka believes with your help, 2022 can be the year of health, environmental and climate justice that will benefit our own farmworkers here in our own community, and beyond. 

Click here to donate to help the Farmworkers Association of Florida fight for justice

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