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Washington Supreme Court Mandates Protections for Farm Workers

The Washington State Supreme Court ordered the State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to develop mandatory rules for medical monitoring of farm workers who handle neurotoxic pesticides. The ruling came in Rios v. Department of Labor and Industries, a suit filed in 1997 by farm workers who suffered repeated illness from handling these pesticides by Earthjustice and Columbia Legal Services. The Supreme Court found that L&I's own team of technical experts had reviewed the most current research and found that the monitoring program requested by the farm workers was "both necessary and doable." It therefore ruled that L&I's refusal to adopt a monitoring program violated the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA).

The Washington Supreme Court ruled:

 

"While we affirm the validity of the Department's 1993 rule, we conclude that the pesticide handlers met their burden of showing that the Department's 1997 denial of the pesticide handlers' request for rulemaking was unreasonable. We therefore order the Department to initiate rulemaking on a mandatory cholinesterase monitoring program for agricultural pesticide handlers."