Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Farmworkers Poisoned By Pesticides

The hazardous work that goes into putting fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers on our tables is largely hidden from the American public, as well as government officials who are supposed to be addressing the problems. Most of the workers are immigrants and are reluctant to file complaints, assuming they even know what the rules are and where to go for help. The regulatory agencies, not receiving many complaints, take not action, allowing the companies to do whatever they want. Fortunately, there are a few people – in this case, the Farmworker Association of Florida, who have stepped in to break this vicious circle by trying to make the public aware of the farmworkers' working conditions and are training workers in safe(r) pesticide application techniques.
The skin on Ciro Diaz's arms, neck and torso looks like the skin of a burn victim.

Covered with scarring pustules, redness and a maze of paper-thin wrinkles, Diaz, a 27-year-old from Miami, said the symptoms began about six months ago after he worked for a company that had him spray weed killer on plants.

The herbicide was in a container strapped to his back.

"When I crawled under trees, the chemical would come out all over my body," he said. "It felt very cold, kind of refreshing."

When his skin began burning and redness appeared, he said his supervisor told him he needed to be more careful. Diaz had to pay to go to a clinic when his skin broke out in an angry rash.

That's when he lost his job.

"When I talked to the boss man, he said it happened because I didn't take care," Diaz said. "He said, 'You're fired, so that next time you'll learn better.' "
Diaz is a farmworker in Florida, one of the thousands of mostly immigrant workers employed in vegetable farms, nurseries and citrus fields in Hendry, Collier, Dade, Volusia and Orange counties.

Diaz’s case is typical of problems identified by the Farmworker Association of Florida which recently made public its health assessment of dangerous violations on farm and nursery sites in South Florida.
They found 123 violations ranging from a lack of required warning signs that pesticides had been sprayed to actual spraying of dangerous chemicals directly behind a worker.


Most troubling, the association said, is the ongoing misuse of pesticides near untrained farmworkers by companies that violate state regulations.
They are trying to make the public aware of the problems faced by Florida farmworkers and also train farmworkers in proper pesticide handling techniques.