EPA Sued For Allowing Unacceptable Pesticide Risks to Farmworkers

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 08 Feb 2004
Time: 17:38:39
Remote Name:


Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
701 E Street, SE, Washington DC 20003
202-543-5450 (voice), 202-543-4791 (fax)

January 15, 2004  
Contact: Jay Feldman

EPA Sued For Allowing Unacceptable Pesticide Risks to Farmworkers

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Farmworker groups filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Environmental Protection Agency for approving the reregistration of two organophosphate pesticides, azinphos-methyl (AZM) and phosmet, that they say continue to poison workers, their children, communities and the environment.

Azinphos-methyl and phosmet are highly toxic neurotoxins routinely used in the United States which can major short- and long-term illnesses including dizziness, vomiting, seizures, paralysis, loss of mental function, and death. Farmworker children and people who live within one quarter-mile of fields have four to five times more chemicals in their bodies from exposure to organophosphates, including AZM, than other individuals. More than 75% of reported poisonings occur either when farmworkers are exposed to pesticides that drift away from where they are applied, or when workers are exposed to pesticide residues, often upon re-entering treated fields. Farmworker families and communities are further exposed to organophosphates through "take-home" exposures on clothing, cars, and skin that then get trapped indoors or closed living quarters.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Seattle by attorneys with Beyond Pesticides/National Campaign Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice Fund, California Rural Legal Assistance, and the Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of Sea Mar Community Health Centers, United Farm Workers of America (UFW), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), and Frente Indígena Oaxaqueña Binacional.

"There were severe deficiencies in the re-registration of both AZM and phosmet," says Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides. "We expect nothing less than a complete ban of these pesticides from the market."

The plaintiffs are arguing that the EPA has continued to allow uses of the pesticides without considering the. They also argued that EPA's cost-benefit analysis was skewed toward the estimated economic value of using the two pesticides and failed to adequately quantify the magnitude of the risks posed to workers, their children, communities, and the environment. They further claim that EPA discounted the use of safe and proven alternatives and used industry-generated data without subjecting it to the light of public scrutiny.

"It is outrageous that EPA authorized the use of these pesticides, putting thousands of workers at risk of serious illness every year," said Erik Nicholson of the United Farm workers of America. "These two pesticides can poison so many farm workers that EPA found the risks unacceptable, but the agency still allowed them to be used."

"We are asking the federal district court to overturn EPA's unlawful authorization of these extremely toxic pesticides," said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, "and to force EPA to consider the magnitude of the harm to workers, and proven alternatives that are less harmful to farm workers and communities."

This action comes on the heals of an updated report focused on California called Fields of Poison 2002 released in September 2002 by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and two of the groups involved in the lawsuit. The report reveals that pesticide safety laws fail to protect many of the state's 700,000 farm workers from poisonings even when the laws are
apparently followed.

AZM and phosmet are mostly used to kill pests on orchard crops such as apples, cherries, pears, preaches, and nectarines. The highest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Last changed: March 14, 2006