The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kathleen Sutcliffe

Earth Justice
(202) 667-4500, ext 235;

Heather Pilatic
Pesticide Action Network

Barb Howe
Farmworker Justice
(202) 293-5420, ext.307

Farm Workers and Allies Ask Gov't to Protect Kids From Toxic Pesticide Drift

Petition to EPA includes immediate no-spray buffer zones around homes, schools, day care centers for most toxic pesticides


Luis Medellin and his three little sisters - aged 5, 9 and 12 - live in
the middle of an orange grove in this small Central Valley town. During
the growing season, Luis and his sisters are awakened several times a
week by the sickly smell of nighttime pesticide spraying. What follows
is worse: searing headaches, nausea, vomiting.

But if a coalition of farm worker, public health, and children's
advocates are successful, Luis and his little sisters may one day be
able to sleep through the night without these toxic disruptions.

The public interest law firms Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice filed a petition today
(PDF) asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set safety
standards protecting children who grow up near farms from the harmful
effects of pesticide 'drift'
- the toxic spray or vapor that travels from treated fields. The groups
are also asking the agency to immediately adopt no-spray buffer zones
around homes, schools, parks and daycare centers for the most dangerous
and drift-prone pesticides.

The petition was filed on behalf of farm worker groups United Farm
Workers, Oregon-based Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste,
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Farm Labor
Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO as well as Physicians for Social
Responsibility, Washington-based Sea Mar Community Health Center,
Pesticide Action Network, and the million-plus member MomsRising.Org

The Medellin family's story is not unique. From apple orchards in
Washington to potato fields in Florida, poisonous pesticide 'clouds'
plague the people who live nearby - posing a particular risk to the
young children of the nation's farm workers, many of whom live in
industry housing at the field's edge.

"When farm workers come home after a long day in the fields and
orchards, they're faced with yet another worry - the poisons that are
settling in their homes, their lawns, their children's bodies," said
Erik Nicholson, National Vice President of United Farm Workers. "We
can't let another growing season go by. EPA needs to put an end to this

In 1996, Congress required EPA to set standards by 2006 to protect
children from pesticides. Three years have passed since that deadline,
and EPA's job is only partially complete. The agency has made some
progress - banning the use of some pesticides in the home and on lawns.
But the agency has failed to protect children from these same
pesticides when they drift from treated fields into nearby yards,
homes, schools, parks and daycare centers.

"In farming communities throughout the country, children have been
abandoned by federal pesticide protections," said Earthjustice attorney
Janette Brimmer. "We're asking EPA to finish the job it started so
children who live, go to school, or play near farms and orchards are
kept safe from poisonous pesticides."

EPA has acknowledged the risk of pesticide drift, but still chose to go
ahead with a double-standard: protecting urban and suburban areas,
while leaving the children of farm workers and other rural kids

"We traditionally think of farms as healthy places," said
President Joan Blades. "But children and families across the country
are being poisoned by pesticides that travel from the fields into their
houses and bedrooms, causing serious and long-lasting damage to their
health. We already have standards barring the use of such pesticides
for homes and lawns to protect children. But all children deserve such
protection. You shouldn't have to live in the suburbs to be safe from
deadly pesticides."

"It's time the EPA put an end to this double-standard for farm
workers. EPA's policies must protect farm workers and their children
from unnecessary poisoning," said Farmworker Justice attorney Virginia

"It's outrageous that our own government isn't protecting our children
from being poisoned by pesticides drifting on their homes and schools,"
said Julie Montgomery, Project Director and Attorney with California
Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. "How can parents possibly protect
their children from these dangers on their own?"

Pesticide poisoning reports and scientific studies show that pesticides are ending up in the air and in people's bodies at unsafe levels. Among a host of examples: recent air monitoring
(PDF) conducted near the Southwoods Elementary School in Hastings,
Florida, detected pesticides in every sample, sometimes at levels that
may pose serious health risks to young children.

"Children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposures both because
their smaller bodies cannot break down toxins as well as adults, and
because their developmental processes are prone to being derailed --
even by very low-level exposure," explains Dr. Margaret Reeves, Senior
Scientist for Pesticide Action Network. "The particular pesticides
we're finding in our drift catching and biomonitoring results are some
of the worst: chlorpyrifos, diazinon, endosulfan...these are associated
with serious short- and long-term health effects. They are also
entirely unnecessary."

One of the pesticides identified as being so dangerous that the groups
have asked EPA to adopt immediate no-spray buffer zone is chlorpyrifos
- initially developed as a nerve toxin by the Nazis. The short term
effects of exposure to chlorpyrifos have been likened to a
chemically-induced flu: chest tightness, blurred vision, headaches,
coughing and wheezing, weakness, nausea and vomiting, coma, seizures,
and even death.

A copy of the petition is available here: (PDF)

A fact sheet with background information on today's petition is available here: (PDF)

A fact sheet detailing the specific health risks linked to pesticide exposure is available here:

A background piece on the science behind pesticide drift is available here:

The four-page results of Hastings, FL drift-catcher results are available here: (PDF)

Also available for interviews:

Janette Brimmer, Attorney, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 29,

Patti Goldman, Vice President of Litigation, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 32,

Dr. Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist, Pesticide Action Network, cell: 415.593.4351,