EPA to Phase Out Pesticide that Poisons Farmworkers


Lawsuit forces EPA to take action to protect workers


Patti Goldman, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 32
Erik Nicholson, United Farmworkers of America, (206) 255-5774
Shelley Davis, Farmworker Justice Fund, (202) 783-2628

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will phase out the use of a pesticide that poisons farmworkers. EPA took the action as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by farmworkers challenging EPA’s decision to allow continued use of this pesticide.

The pesticide, azinphos-methyl (“AZM”), is a highly toxic organophosphate neurotoxin.  Organophosphate pesticides, derived from nerve agents used during World War II, attack the human nervous system.  Exposure can cause dizziness, vomiting, seizures, paralysis, loss of mental function, and death.  Farmworker families and communities are exposed to organophosphates through “take-home” exposures on clothing, cars, and skin.    

Under federal law, EPA decides which pesticides may be used throughout the United States.  In 2001, EPA had found that AZM poses unacceptable risks to workers, but it allowed the pesticide to continue to be used for four more years because less toxic alternatives might cost a bit more to use.  Farmworker advocates had challenged that decision in federal court in Seattle because EPA failed to account for the costs of poisoning workers, exposing children, and polluting rivers and streams. The farmworker groups bringing the lawsuit were United Farm Workers of America (“UFW”), Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (“PCUN”), National Campaign Against the Misuse of Pesticides, and Frente Indígena Oaxaqueño Binacional. In the lawsuit, EPA committed to reconsider whether to ban AZM, which led to the announced decision to phase-out AZM use over four years. 

EPA has released a draft decision that would phase out all uses of AZM by 2010 with some uses phased out by 2007.  The decision would also eliminate aerial spraying, require 100 foot buffers around water bodies, reduce application rates, require buffers around buildings and occupied dwellings, and require medical monitoring of workers entering fields sprayed by AZM. 

“It is outrageous that EPA allowed continued use of this pesticide knowing that it would expose farmworkers to unacceptable risks of pesticide poisonings,” said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice.  “Since growers have already had four years to shift to other pest controls, there is no reason to subject workers and their communities to more poisonings for another four years.” 

AZM is used primarily to kill insects on orchard crops such as apples, cherries, pears, peaches and nectarines.  The highest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“EPA had turned its back on the men, women, and children who are threatened by an extremely hazardous pesticide that should be replaced with new safer alternatives,” said Shelley Davis, attorney for the Farmworker Justice Fund.  “It is time to make that shift now.”

For additional information visit: Farmworker Justice Fund

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.