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  • Writer's pictureJohn Larrimer

How Does Workplace Pesticide Exposure Harm Agricultural Workers?

Did you know that 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. every year? These products improve crop production by combating insect infestations, but they can also cause harm to workers. Centers for Disease Control statistics show that 10,000 to 20,000 cases of workplace pesticide exposure occur every year, putting workers at higher risk of developing long-term health problems. Many cases of workplace pesticide poisoning may go unreported.

Agricultural workers and pesticide handlers can be exposed in a number of different ways. In some cases, pesticides drift with wind gusts or stick to crops. These chemicals can also spill while being handled. Even worse, workers take pesticides home with them, as these chemicals can stick to clothing.

Depending on the chemical, workers can succumb to cancer, suffer from infertility or develop neurological disorders. For example, a 2009 study conducted by the University of California Los Angeles uncovered a link between Parkinson’s disease the pesticide Ziram.

For these reasons, groups working on behalf of agricultural workers are asking for more workplace protections around these chemicals.

Should Certain Pesticides Be Banned by the EPA?

United Farm Workers and several other groups have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the use of chlorpyrifos. This commonly used pesticide is neurotoxic, and exposure can lead to nausea, dizziness, respiratory paralysis and death. The EPA has already banned chlorpyrifos use on crops like tomatoes and apples, but its use is still allowed on some crops.

Also keep in mind that there are already dozens of pesticides banned or severely restricted by the EPA. This would not be an unusual precedent.

Groups involved in the petition have claimed they want the pesticide banned to “ensure a safe workplace for all.”

Workers who develop occupational diseases due to pesticide exposure may be able to file for workers compensation or other benefits.

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