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A matter of (in)justice
Disturbing new details on pesticide use in Ventura County, Calif.
Today, I am sharing a story from The New Lede that spotlights the high price we’re asking certain people to pay so the rest of us can enjoy cheap food grown through ‘conventional’ measures, meaning heavy pesticide use. Give it a read, and please share:
Pesticides plague Californians of color, new study shows
Carmen Obeso was pulling weeds at a strawberry field in Ventura County, California when she smelled something strange. Nearby she spotted a machine spraying pesticides; soon, her eyes were watering and she felt sick to her stomach. Obeso, a Latina farmworker, reported the incident to her crew leader and was evaluated at an on-site health care clinic. A doctor there reassured her that she had not been exposed to anything harmful, and the company expected her back at work the following Monday.
But Obeso didn’t feel better by the next week, nor in the weeks that followed. Her eyes continued to water and felt gritty, and her vision was changing. She knew something was wrong, but the on-site physician still insisted she was fine. Finally, Obeso went to see a different doctor, who confirmed that her eyes had been affected.
It has been two years since the spray incident, and Obeso said in a recent interview that her vision continues to worsen. She is almost blind in sunny conditions unless she wears shaded glasses, she said.
Now, instead of working in the fields, she volunteers with farmworker advocacy groups, and is one of a growing number of Hispanic/Latino farmworkers pushing for improved working conditions, including protections for pesticides.
“I feel there are other farmworkers in similar situations and they’re not able to voice it,” she said in Spanish during an interview aided by a translator. “When [the company] sprays the fields, they don’t put up postings. People go in and work and accumulate whatever was sprayed there. They might not always have acute reactions, but in the long run that’s when the consequences can be seen.”
Ventura County is known for its year-round production of roughly $2 billion worth of fruits and vegetables that feed people throughout the US and more than 70 other countries. Strawberries are the top crop, but workers also produce peppers, tomatoes, blueberries, avocados, and more.
But while these farms produce foods many consider staples of a healthy diet, the profusion of pesticides used on the fields pose significant risks to already vulnerable populations living and working in the area, according to research published this month in the journal Science of the Total Environment. These include thousands of mostly Latino farmworkers, many of which live below the poverty line and lack health insurance.
The study found that 17.1 million pounds of pesticides, or an average of 5.7 million pounds per year, were sprayed in Ventura County from 2016 to 2018. The pesticides used included more than 60 types known to be carcinogenic and 74 types linked to endocrine disruption. Another 85 pesticides used in the county were linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity.
In terms of volume, pesticides linked to cancer accounted for nearly a quarter of the total pounds of pesticides applied in the county, the researchers documented.
Notably, the study found that township sections where people of color were the majority had not just the most pesticide use, but also the most toxic pesticide use. More than half of the population in these areas was Latino or Hispanic. In contrast, areas that were relatively free of pesticides were overwhelmingly white communities.
Read the rest of the story….
And speaking of pesticides - I’m working on a deep dive into paraquat and connections to Parkinson’s disease, and would love to hear from readers who are experts in this area, and people involved in paraquat litigation.
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