(FinalCall.com) – What you may be consuming along with some of your vegetables could be dangerous to your health. That’s the warning from farmworker advocates and environmentalists who filed a lawsuit on April 4 in California against the Environmental Protection Agency. The groups want to stop the use of four organophoshate pesticides on various fruit, vegetable and nut crops.
The pesticides – methidathion, oxydemeton-methyl, methamidophos, and ethoprop – are nerve toxins developed by Nazis for use during World War II. They were not used during the war, but were put into commercial use to kill insects.
These poisons, which have the same lethal affect on humans, have been detected in California’s rural schoolyards and homes, Sequoia National Park, and Monterey Bay, according to the coalition, and are severely harming farmworkers, their children and other people, especially in rural areas.
The pesticides are acutely toxic and can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, abdominal cramps, paralysis, death, permanent nerve damage and neurobehavioral effects, the coalition warned.
It outlined the uses and health threats caused by these pesticides:
– Methamidophos, considered by the EPA to pose “one of the highest risks to workers of any organophosphate insecticide currently registered,” is severely toxic to bees and moderately toxic to birds and has been banned or severely restricted in several countries due to its risks to humans and environmental health. In the U.S. it has been used on potatoes, cotton, fresh and processed tomatoes and California alfalfa grown for seed.
– Methidathion exposure can cause cancer. About 90-95 percent of methidathion use occurred in California in 2004. Annually, approximately 48,000 pounds of the pesticide are applied to the state’s artichokes, oranges, almonds, peaches and olives.
– Oxydemeton-methyl has been associated with birth defects, decreases fertility, the size and viability of offspring, and the size of reproductive organs. According to a poison control database, more than 600 entries on ODM poisoning breaks down as follows: five percent were farmworkers, 74 percent were adult bystanders, and 20 percent were children under six. Approximately 130,000 pounds of ODM were used in California in 2005, primarily on broccoli (62 percent), lettuce, cauliflower (46 percent), corn, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts (75 percent), the coalition said.
– Ethoprop, a known carcinogen identified on California’s Proposition 65 Carcinogen List, poses an enhanced threat because of it is ability to drift from fields after application, and poison children and other bystanders. It is primarily used on potatoes, sugarcane and tobacco, and is linked to massive fish kills after being used on golf courses (which has since been banned) and tobacco fields.
Patti Goldman of Earthjustice told The Final Call this latest lawsuit follows three legal challenges against severely toxic pesticides filed in early 2004.
Ms. Goldman said the EPA agreed to issue a new decision on one pesticide use; canceled usage of another within six years from the date of its decision, and agreed to phase it out by the year 2012, and it continued use of the third.
A legal challenge pending in San Jose will impact orchards and field crops, Ms. Goldman said. She added, “This is not about getting compensation for people injured. This is to try to prevent the harm in the first place. It’s very troublesome that the EPA is allowing this very high risk to continue for workers and doing nothing to protect children, who are very vulnerable to it because of long term developmental issues.”
If the court refuses to issue a stop use order, it should at minimum establish more protection and safeguards for workers and minimize exposure to children and bystanders, the coalition said. Protections could include buffer zones around schools, day care centers and homes where children play and by using closed tractors and cabs during application also by minimize drifting and access to streams and other bodies of water, it added.
According to the EPA, pesticides make their way from their source to humans through food, water or residential use.
Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides, a national organization, which works to eradicate pesticide use, believes that there are safer, better methods for growing food within the U.S. “We’re using too many poisons in the production of food and it’s hurting people that eat the food and those that grow and harvest the food. In addition the use of these chemicals in agriculture have a dramatic adverse impact on children and wildlife,” Mr. Feldman told The Final Call.
“The EPA is highly politicized and there is a lot of lobbying by chemical companies and large agribusiness companies that produce food. It is clear that the agency was totally deficient in carrying out its responsibilities under the law,” he charged.
Beyond Pesticides argues most farmers want to grow healthier food, but rely on chemical companies, which tell them pesticides are safe. It promotes a full transition to alternative methods, such as organic crop rotation and proper fertilization to negate the need for chemical pesticides.
“It’s unfortunate that the U.S. government doesn’t embrace the transition to organic as high priority, because we’re finding that organic agriculture sequesters four times as much harvest as chemical agriculture does, and it can contribute to climate change,” said Mr. Feldman.
“I think that people don’t really know, but they assume that if the EPA allows a pesticide to be used then it’s safe and I also think people feel they are powerless against the federal government or that they can have an impact,” said Shelly Davis of Farmworker Justice, which works nationally to educate people about the plight of farmworkers.