EPA sued over million farm kids exposed to pesticides

SAN FRANCISCO, 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 health."

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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