Focal Point: “Practical Application”
“If you think of something that is going to actually kill a pest, obviously that carries with it danger to the person that’s handling it.”
— John Vollmer, organic farmer
There are about 54,000 farmers in North Carolina. Most of them use pesticides on their crops to control insects and disease. That means the roughly 88,000 farm workers who help cultivate and harvest those crops come into contact with dangerous pesticides on a regular basis. WRAL-TV’s new Focal Point documentary “Practical Application” takes an in-depth look at the issue of worker safety in the application of agricultural pesticides in North Carolina. The documentary is hosted by WRAL-TV Anchor/Reporter Cullen Browder and airs Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 7pm on WRAL-TV.
|The North Carolina News Network recently produced a series “An Appetite for Change” about the use of pesticides. Listen here.|
Using proper precautions greatly reduces the risk, but it’s up to farmers to train workers how to protect themselves when working around pesticides, to provide them with the protective equipment they need such as goggles and gloves and to make sure they have adequate shower facilities so they can wash off pesticide residue.
While there were only about 20 reported cases of pesticide poisoning on North Carolina farms last year, farm worker advocates say that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They believe there are many more cases but that workers are afraid to report them for fear of losing their jobs and housing. Under Department of Agricultural regulations workers have no guarantee of confidentiality if they file a complaint like they do under Department of Labor regulations.
The issue of farm worker exposure to pesticides got the state’s attention when several women working for Ag-Mart, a large tomato grower with fields in southeastern North Carolina, blamed the company’s use of pesticides for their children’s birth defects. One child was born with no limbs. A judge threw out most of the state’s charges against Ag-Mart because the company’s pesticide records did not back up the state’s case and because under state law the violations have to be proven as “willful”.
The case prompted Governor Mike Easley to appoint a task force earlier this year to look into the issue of farm worker exposure to pesticides. The task force made recommendations to the General Assembly, some of which passed, but farm worker advocates say the effort falls far short of what is needed to protect workers from pesticide exposure. They worry that the state agency that enforces pesticide regulations puts the interests of the agricultural industry ahead of worker safety.
Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Clay Johnson for this capcom story.