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Testing of Chemical Levels in Farmworkers Begins

A recent preliminary survey by the Washington (state) Department of Health has found that a quarter of tested farmworker pesticide handlers appear to be overexposed to two classes of extremely hazardous chemicals. The good news is that the people can be treated and the overexposure avoided in the future, provided that rules are strengthened and followed. Of the 345 workers tested so far, 82 appear to be overexposed to carbamates or organophosphates, which can cause dizziness, breathing problems, muscle twitching, and paralysis. More than two thousand more workers are now being tested.

The testing comes as the result of a long and complicated lawsuit that ended on the steps of the Washington Supreme Court. That body ruled that the farmworkers who sued to demand the testing were in the right. Earthjustice teamed up with Columbia Legal Services to pursue the litigation and then ride herd on the health department to start the testing. It is, in the words of Earthjustice attorney Todd True, "a great success story. Literally hundreds of real people—mostly low-income and of color—are receiving medical attention and safer work environments because we teamed up with Columbia Legal Servcices to make the state obey the law."