Florida Farmworkers Demand Protection from Pesticides
by: Stephanie Carroll Carson
WASHINGTON – Farm workers from Florida and around the country are on Capitol Hill today, asking Congress to protect them from potentially hazardous pesticides commonly used in agriculture.
There are 290,000 farm workers in Florida and just 40 inspectors to make sure their employers are following safety practices. Every year thousands of those workers report poisoning from pesticide exposure, and many of them, as they look for help, tell their stories to Jeannie Economos, pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida.
“They need stronger protections,” Economos declared. “These people are feeding us and yet they’re not getting the same protections that are afforded all other workers in this country.”
While a majority of workers in the United States are covered by OSHA, protection for farm workers is handled by the Environmental Protection Agency. The farm workers are asking members of Congress to strengthen regulations set by the EPA that they say have not been revised for more than 20 years.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, agriculture contributes $100 billion to the state’s economy every year, and exports of farm products have increased by 40 percent during the past five years.
Economos pointed out that farm workers provide a basic necessity.
“You wouldn’t be able to be doing your job right now, and I wouldn’t be able to be here doing my job, if I had to grow my own food and produce my own food so I could eat,” she stated.
Farm workers and their advocates are asking for more comprehensive pesticide safety training, additional safety precautions, protective equipment, and medical monitoring of workers who handle neurotoxic pesticides.