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This website provides resources on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) such as pesticides, dioxins, PCBs, and wastes. Valuable examples of community monitoring of health and environmental impacts of toxic chemicals are also furnished.

Further, there is an entire section devoted to chemical safety in its proper socio-political context or in relation to issues such as globalization and people's empowerment.


Farm Worker Tests Reveal Routine Pesticide Exposure

by Pesticide Action Network North America

On February 8, 2005, national and state farm worker organizations
highlighted some very disturbing medical monitoring results in Washington
State. Their report, "Messages from Monitoring," looks at the first year
of data from a Washington State program that tests farm workers who
regularly handle organophosphates (OPs) and carbamates (CBs), both of
which are neurotoxic pesticides. The report shows that one in five workers
tested experiences significant inhibition of cholinesterase--an enzyme
essential to proper nervous system function--and faults both state and
federal agencies for failing to protect farm workers.

For nearly 20 years, farm workers in Washington have pressed for a
medical monitoring program, similar to a program instituted in 1974 in
California, which has the only other monitoring program for this highly
toxic class of pesticides. After a state Supreme Court ruled for the farm
workers, testing began in Washington at the start of the 2004 growing
season. The Washington program applies to all workers who mix, load,
apply, or otherwise handle highly toxic OP or CB pesticides for 50 or more
hours a month.

When exposure to OPs or CBs causes declines in cholinesterase levels,
workers can suffer serious health effects such as nausea, headaches,
fatigue, and seizures. If levels decline further more severe effects can
occur, including long-term memory loss, paralysis and death.

Workers received "baseline" blood tests prior to the spray season to
identify normal levels of cholinesterase. They then received monthly
follow-up tests when they met or exceeded the 50-hour per month handling
threshold. (That threshold drops to 30 hours per month in 2005.) Under
the monitoring rules, when cholinesterase levels decline by more than 20%
from the workers' baseline level, employers are required to conduct
workplace audits to identify and address factors contributing to serious
depression. When levels decline by 30% or more in red blood cell tests
or 40% or more in blood plasma tests, workers must be removed from
handling tasks until their cholinesterase levels rebound sufficiently.
Employers can reassign workers to other tasks that do not involve
significant exposures if available, and must maintain full salaries and benefits
for removed workers.

Over the course of the spray season, 123 (21%) pesticide handlers out
of 580 who received both baseline and follow-up tests had depressions of
more than 20% (the workplace audit level). Of these, 26 (over 4% of the
580 workers) had depressions low enough to trigger removal under the
state rules.

Four pesticides were repeatedly involved in serious depressions:
chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), azinphos methyl (Guthion), carbaryl (Sevin) and
formetanate (Carzol). The majority of handlers needing removal for
cholinesterase depressions used a mixture of carbaryl and an OP insecticide
(chlorpyrifos or azinphos methyl). One common contributing factor at
workplaces with depressions was the use of air-blast sprayers towed by
tractors to apply the pesticides.

Significantly, in a large percentage of the serious depression cases,
there was no evidence of non-compliance with federal Worker Protection
Standards or pesticide labels. Many case summaries, in fact, noted that
growers and their employees exceeded regulatory requirements by wearing
a respirator for chlorpyrifos though this is not required. The report
notes that EPA's own analysis predicted that occupational exposures
would pose unacceptable risks, "In fact, citing cost-benefit provisions in
federal pesticide registration law, EPA has approved continued use of
some highly toxic OPs while openly acknowledging that even with full
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and engineering controls, workers will
experience exposures which EPA considers unacceptable, i.e. having
Margins of Exposure (MOE) less than 100. Almost all handling scenarios for
azinphos methyl pose exposure risks for workers which EPA considers
unacceptable, and numerous scenarios for chlorpyrifos do the same."

"Messages from Monitoring" identifies serious problems in the
Washington testing that may mask evidence of even greater harm. For example,
statistical analyses done by the program's Scientific Advisory Committee
reveals the risks of false negatives may be as high as 50%. The
Committee also noted that many depressions might have been missed because of
the length of time that elapsed between sample collection and analysis.
In other cases, workers reportedly declined monitoring due to actual or
perceived employer interference.

The report also faulted the Washington State Department of Labor and
Industry (L&I) for its slow response when testing revealed cholinesterase
declines. "L&I chose not to use its enforcement authorities to
investigate workplaces where depressions occurred. Even in cases where multiple
workers had depressions, the agency adopted a 'consultation' approach."
The average interval between receiving test results and performing
workplace audits or removals was more than 7 days, during which time the
workers may have been receiving additional exposures.

"Messages from Monitoring" points out that the Washington monitoring
program tests pesticide handlers, and not field workers despite a growing
body of literature demonstrating routine pesticide exposure among field
workers and their families. Finally, the report faults government for
failing to promote alternatives to these dangerous pesticides, and calls
on state agencies and the federal government to end the use of the most
risky pesticides, including azinphos methyl, chlorpyrifos and other
highly toxic OPs and CBs, and to require cholinesterase monitoring on a
national basis.

The United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW) is now circulating an
online petition asking EPA to implement a national cholinesterase
monitoring program. To sign the petition visit:

Source: "Messages from Monitoring," Farm Worker Pesticide Project,
Farmworker Justice Fund, United Farm Workers, http://www.fwjustice.org.
Contact: Farm Worker Pesticide Project, 206-729-0498, PANNA.

©heal toxics, 2003
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