California, October 4, 2004 (ENS): Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill (SB
391) ensuring the immediate medical treatment and timely
payment for individuals injured by the improper application
of agricultural pesticides. It places the financial
burden to pay for acute medical costs for those who
become ill from exposure to chemicals that drift off
the fields on those businesses that create the harm.
Farm workers are celebrating, but growers fear increased
insurance liabilities and higher costs.
The new law authorizes the Department of Pesticide
Regulation (DPR) and County Agricultural Commissioners
to require a violator of the pesticide laws to reimburse
the medical costs of individuals who suffer acute injuries
and illness caused by agricultural pesticide use violations.
The law requires the California Environmental Protection
Agency to establish minimum standard protocols for the
purposes of amending area plans. It requires all certified
uniform program agencies to incorporate a pesticide
drift component upon the next scheduled update of the
This bill is intended to provide treatment for pesticide
exposure victims and ensure immediate and proper response
to each incident. The California Rural Legal Assistance
Foundation, the sponsor of this bill, states that hundreds,
if not thousands, of people are affected annually by
pesticide exposures. Illnesses and ailments include
rashes, vomiting, irritation of the eyes, fainting,
and respiratory problems.
The law is also supported by California Communities
Against Toxics, the Consumer Federation of California,
and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But the California Farm Bureau Federation, the Western
Growers, and the Wine Institute are against the law.
They argue that liability insurance for farmers will
become more expensive, that this bill expands the authority
of DPR to impose fines, and that the protocols are mandated,
limiting regulators' discretion.
Governor Schwarzenegger recognized that there may be
insurance problems for some companies under this law,
so he said followup legislation is needed. "I am
concerned that the liability provisions in SB 391 may
be viewed as overly broad and may lead to the inability
for some entities to obtain insurance," the governor
said on Thursday as he signed the bill into law. "These
provisions need to be addressed in follow up legislation
to remediate these unintended consequences."
California farm workers have a higher incidence of
cancer with greater exposure to pesticides, a recent
study shows. "Hispanic farm workers with relatively
high levels of exposure to organochlorine pesticides
(lindane and hepatachlor), organophosphate pesticides
(dichlorvos), fumigants (methyl bromide), or triazine
herbicides (simazine) experienced elevated risk of prostate
cancer compared to workers with lower levels of exposure."
The 2003 study was conducted by P.K. Mills and R. Yang
of the Cancer Registry of Central California, the University
of California, San Francisco, and the Fresno Medical