California, June 8, 2005 (ENS): A coalition
of farm workers, environmental and public health groups
filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) Tuesday, charging the agency with ignoring
the special risk to children growing up surrounded by
chemical poisons on farms.
"Children of farm workers breathe pesticides that
drift from the fields, and they often live, play, and
go to school right next to pesticide-treated orchards,"
said Erik Nicholson of the United Farm Workers of America,
AFL-CIO, which represents tens of thousands of farm
workers whose families can be exposed to pesticides.
"It’s common sense to protect our kids, but
EPA is ignoring them."
The plaintiffs charge that the EPA has failed to consider
farm kids’ heightened exposure risks when setting
allowable pesticide standards for food.
More than a million children of farm workers live near
farms in this country, and more than 300,000 farmers’
children under the age of six live on farms. These children
are exposed to hazardous pesticides, from their food,
the air, soil and water, and from the clothes of their
parents, according to a growing body of scientific evidence.
Children are especially vulnerable to toxic effects
of pesticides on their developing brains, and bodies.
The plaintiffs say the EPA is ignoring scientific evidence
that farm children face increased health risks because
of pesticide exposure.
The groups point to scientific studies that find children
are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure than adults,
in part because their bodies and brains are still developing.
They also eat more fruits and vegetables and drink
more water for their size, and have more hand-to-mouth
contact with dust, dirt and floors. They come into contact
with pesticides that drift from fields into their homes,
play areas and schools.
When parents return from fields, their children are
exposed to hazards simply from touching their clothing,
hair and skin. Farm children often play near recently
sprayed fields and sometimes swim in irrigation canals
filled with water contaminated with pesticides.
Pesticide exposure is linked to neurological disorders,
such as Parkinson’s disease, reduced cognitive
functioning and reduced coordination; developmental
delays in infants and children; reproductive harms,
such as infertility, stillbirths, birth defects and
musculoskeletal defects; and cancer, including brain
tumors, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sarcoma
and Wilm’s tumor, the groups point out.
In October 1998, the plaintiffs petitioned EPA to identify
farm children as meriting special consideration. The
groups are suing the federal agency for failing to respond
to the petition within a reasonable amount of time.
"We can no longer wait patiently while we hear
every day from communities and individuals directly
affected by toxic pesticides," said Margaret Reeves,
Ph.D., senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network
North America. "It’s time to light a fire
under EPA to force it to act to protect farm children’s
The lawsuit is being filed against EPA and its administrator,
Stephen Johnson, in the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of California.
The plaintiffs are Pesticide Action Network North America;
United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO; the Natural
Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Clean Water Action;
and Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.
Farmworker Justice Fund and NRDC are serving as co-counsel
for the plaintiffs who are asking the court to rule
that the EPA’s failure to respond to their 1998
petition was unlawful and to compel the agency to respond
within 90 days.
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