Farmworker groups filed a lawsuit today challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's approval of two pesticides that poison workers. The two pesticides are azinphos-methyl (AZM) and phosmet, two highly toxic organophosphate neurotoxins. Organophosphate pesticides, derived from nerve agents used during World War II, attack the human nervous system. They are among the most powerful toxins routinely used in the United States. Exposure can cause dizziness, vomiting, seizures, paralysis, loss of mental function, and death. Farmworker families and communities are exposed to organophosphates (OPs) through "take-home" exposures on clothing, cars, and skin. Farmworker children and people who live within one quarter-mile of fields have four to five times more chemicals in their bodies from exposure to OPs, including AZM, than other individuals.
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Seattle by attorneys with Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice Fund, California Rural Legal Assistance, and the Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of Sea Mar Community Health Centers, United Farm Workers of America (UFW), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), National Campaign Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), and Frente Indígena Oaxaqueña Binacional.
"It is outrageous that EPA authorized the use of these pesticides, putting thousands of workers at risk of serious illness every year," said Erik Nicholson of the United Farmworkers of America. "These two pesticides can poison so many farmworkers that EPA found the risks unacceptable, but the agency still allowed them to be used."
Under federal law, EPA decides which pesticides may be used throughout the United States. The EPA has continued to allow uses of these pesticides without even considering the magnitude of the risks posed to workers, their children, and communities. EPA analyzed the estimated economic value of using these two pesticides to farmers but failed to quantify the risks to people and the environment. EPA also discounted the use of safe and proven alternatives to these dangerous substances and used industry-generated data without subjecting it to the light of public scrutiny.
"EPA places such a low value on human life that it justified poisoning workers, their children and communities so these pesticides can be used to maximize profits," said Mr. Nicholson.
"We are asking the federal district court to overturn EPA's unlawful authorization of these extremely toxic pesticides," said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, "and to force EPA to consider the magnitude of the harm to workers, and proven alternatives that are less harmful to farmworkers and communities."
AZM and phosmet are mostly used to kill pests on orchard crops such as apples, cherries, pears, preaches, and nectarines. The highest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
"EPA has turned its back on the men, women, and children who are threatened by two extremely hazardous pesticides that should be replaced with new safer alternatives," said Shelley Davis, attorney for the Farmworker Justice Fund.
Grant Cope, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 ex. 25
Patti Goldman, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 ex. 32
Aaron Colangelo, NRDC, 202-289-6868
Erik Nicholson, UFW, 206-255-5774
Ramon Ramirez, PCUN, 503-982-0243 x201
Shelley Davis, FJF, 202-783-2628
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