“I am very afraid because I do not know what tomorrow will bring because I am four months pregnant and I worry for my unborn baby. Three days later [after being exposed to pesticide drift], I am still vomiting and have a major headache. My pregnancy doctor could not see me as he was going to charge me and I did not have any money to pay him.”
— Julia Rojas Sabino, Organic Onion Worker
Pesticide drift poisonings should be a thing of the past. Agribusiness knows pesticides are dangerous. Pesticide applicators know pesticides drift. Proper precautions should be taken by applicators. Every farm should make sure supervisors know what to do in a drift emergency. It’s simple. Right?
Tell that to Julia Rojads Sabino and the other farm workers who were exposed to pesticide drift on Friday, July 10, while harvesting onions in Tehachapi. Julia and another farm worker were pregnant (four and five months respectively).
The workers thought they were safe. After all, they were harvestingorganic onions. They weren’t dealing with pesticides, right?
However, the orchard next door wasn’t organic.
Julia and her crew arrived at the field. Julia noticed that to the side of her crew–approximately 60 meters away–there was a man ready to spray pesticides in the apple orchard in the next field.
Julia and the crew she was part of began working at 6am, at the same time they began spraying. They began to smell a very strong odor. Julia told us, “The smell became stronger and we spoke to the crew boss. He told us it was lime [sulfur] and after a while gave us masks for our mouths.” She said these masks did nothing to protect workers against the smell or the chemical.
Workers started sneezing and vomiting and their eyes began stinging. The crew boss called the supervisor and when he arrived ten minutes later they moved the workers to another location and told them to have lunch.
Julia told us, “My coworkers were vomiting and their eyes burning. I felt very dizzy and was vomiting and I tried drinking lots of water to see if it would go away.” It didn’t.
The fire department and ambulance arrived and the sickest workers–including Julia–were put in an enclosed area, stripped down and given a high pressure bath and taken to the county hospital. Julia told us all “they did an ultrasound and gave us a glass of cold water.”
Julia is worried about the effects these pesticides, Assail 70 WP (acemidiprid) and Fujimite 5EC (fenpryoximate), might have on her unborn baby or herself. Luckily she was past her 1st trimester, so the chance of birth defects is much lower.
The laws and regulations out there say an applicator should not spray pesticides in a way that creates a danger of contaminating other people. The laws say the employer should have moved the workers out of harm’s way and ensured they were taken to the doctor immediately.
However, a lot of this is a matter of judgment. There are no set buffer zones or required communication between separate farms about planned spraying. (If it was the same farm, there is required notification for other workers expected to come within 1/4 mile of the sprayed area.)
This is wrong. Tell the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to make sure the county issues stiff fines. But even more importantly these rules have to stop being just a matter of judgment. Established minimum buffer zones need to be set. Communication between farms needs to be a must, not a maybe.