Change to Federal Rule Could Expose More Farmworkers to Pesticides

Civil Eats discusses how a change to Federal Rule could expose more farmworkers to pesticides. The EPA has proposed dropping a rule requiring safety zones when spraying pesticides, just as farmworkers are deemed ‘essential’ during the pandemic.

For Rogelina Sánchez, that morning last June began much like hundreds of other mornings had begun in the fields of California’s Central Valley. There was the slowly rising heat, the crisp rustle of leaves, the snatches of conversation as people bent to their work.

On this day in the vineyard just west of the town of Dinuba, the grapes grew so thick and tall that Sánchez, 54, says she couldn’t see beyond the row where she was pruning.

So, she had no warning before the wave of pesticides hit.

Suddenly, her throat tightened, her head started pounding, and there was a bitter taste in her mouth. Moments later, she says, she felt like someone had slugged her in the stomach and she vomited. All around her, people were doing the same.

Investigators would later report that someone in a peach orchard just to the south of the vineyard was spraying a combination of Onager Optek, which kills mites; an insecticide called Reaper Clearform; and Narrow Range 415 Spray Oil, another insecticide.

Authorities say 52 people were exposed and six were taken to the hospital, one of whom was kept overnight for shortness of breath. The orchard company has been fined and is appealing.

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