California victims of pesticide drift to get medical costs

SACRAMENTO, 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 area plan.

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 Education Program.

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