Thursday, January 15, 2004

Overlooking the Human Cost: Farmworkers Sue EPA Over Pesticides

Another lesson from my health and safety workshop days was that anything that ended in "cide" was poison. It may be an herbi - cide to be used against plants, or a pesti-cide to be used against bugs, or a rodenti - cide to be used against rats -- but they were all poison to the humans that apply them.

Some pesticides are more hazardous than other. Organophosphate pesticides are particularly bad, attacking the central nervous system. Some in this family have been banned or heavily restricted by EPA. But not enough. Now a number of groups representing farmworkers are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to adequately protect workers and the environment from the use of toxic pesticides.
Attorneys for the farm-worker groups, which include the United Farmworkers of America, claim that the EPA has continued to allow the use of two toxic pesticides, azinphos-methyl and phosmet, despite data showing the dangers of exposure to such chemicals.

The organophosphate pesticides, derived from nerve agents used during World War II, are neurotoxins because they can attack the nervous system, attorneys said. According to the lawsuit, Sea Mar clinicians have treated patients with headaches, vomiting, disorientation and other symptoms of pesticide poisoning.

In 2001, Washington state had the highest use of AZM among states and was third nationwide in the use of phosmet, attorneys said.

"The EPA knew there were unacceptable risks, yet went ahead and decided (in 2001) to register the pesticide ... ignoring its own data that showed how to produce apples (for example) at a profit in a way that didn't poison people," said Grant Cope, an attorney for Earthjustice.

The lawsuit alleges that EPA conducted a shortsighted cost-benefit analysis that ignored recent data and favored the economic interests of growers, many of whom use such chemicals to protect crops from pests such as insects and rodents.

Erik Nicholson of the United Farmworkers of America said the EPA "didn't factor in the human cost.