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Survivors of Pesticide Poisoning - Say No to Methyl Iodide


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Survivors of Pesticide Poisoning - Say No to Methyl Iodide

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Survivors of Pesticide Poisoning - Say No to Methyl Iodide

  1. 1. Profiles of PoisonSurvivors of Pesticide Poisoning Say No to Methyl IodideThe California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) use in agriculture. Listed as a carcinogen under California’swill shortly decide whether to register for use a new, very dan- Proposition 65 statute, methyl iodide affects the nervous sys-gerous pesticide, methyl iodide. The profiles in this report tem, the lungs, liver and kidneys, and poses particular risks torecord the stories of nine individuals from across California the elderly and developing brains of children. The U.S. EPA’swho have been poisoned by pesticides in the homes, schools own evaluation indicates that methyl iodide causes thyroidand fields where they live and work. These individuals hope toxicity, permanent neurological damage, and fetal deaths intheir stories will inspire leaders to protect Californians from experimental animals. Among scientists’ greatest concerns isthe horrific—and inevitable—consequences of allow- the pesticide’s ability to cause spontaneous abortion late ining highly hazardous chemicals to be used in agriculture. pregnancy.Through this report they unite their voices to strongly urgeDPR and the governor not to approve the known carcino- These individuals’ stories represent what happens too fre-gen and highly toxic pesticide methyl iodide for use in fields quently — pesticides escape crop boundaries and infiltrateacross California. neighboring communities and fields. Fumigants like methyl iodide are especially prone to drift, a serious concern consider-From the farmworker rushed to the hospital with severe ing this highly toxic pesticide may be applied at rates of up tochemical blistering and in need of respiratory support, to the 175 pounds per acre near neighborhoods, schools and farm-pregnant mother who lost her baby only two days after being workers in the fields. Even the best efforts of growers and pes-exposed to pesticide dew, these are the stories of people who ticide applicators cannot prevent much of this drift, resultinghave lived through the pain and trauma of pesticide poison- in public exposure and contamination of the and are speaking out to prevent others from suffering thesame fate. The individuals in this report represent the many commu- nities across the state who are demanding that the Depart-Their stories underline the concerns of scientists who have ment of Pesticide Regulation live up to its mission “to protectexpressed astonishment that an industrial chemical posing human health and the environment by regulating pesticidesuch high risks to human health would even be considered for sales and use.” Photo by David Chatfield
  2. 2. Michele Smylie In May 2000, my life changed in seconds. communicate were deteriorating rapidly. As I walked across the driveway at my Sixty days after the accident I finally found home in the foothills of Ventura County, a doctor who could properly diagnose and I felt a helicopter that had been crop dust- treat my symptoms. ing a nearby avocado grove fly overhead. I was annoyed that my hair had been blown The majority of the damage was to my around, not knowing that something that brain and central nervous system. I had seemed so common could lead to several optic nerve damage, affecting my vision, Photo courtesy of Michele Smylie near death experiences. and also damage to my immune system. I was told I am now at high risk to acquire Within 72 hours of being sprayed, all my Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclero- organs were failing. I was hardly recogniz- sis and other neurological disorders. The able with the unbelievable swelling. Blood first three years after the incident it was work confirmed that I had experienced a assumed that I would never drive again, go life-threatening chemical exposure. back to work or even be able to care for myself, let alone take care of my then five- The next 30–60 days were a nightmare. year-old daughter. There were several emergency room visits. My cognitive functions began to deterio- During this journey one specialist told rate, along with my eyesight, balance, and me that most people who live through an a host of other related symptoms. Within acute chemical exposure to this extent die 30–45 days I couldn’t write a full sentence, within the first five years from complica- and my speech patterns and ability to tions. There were days and months that I truly thought it would have been easier to die. Every day I am thankful that I lived through this ordeal, thankful that my fam- ily was able to take on the financial bur- den of very costly medical treatments, and thankful that I was able to get the care to recover to the extent I have. I am most thankful that my five year old was not in the driveway with me that fateful day. I have no doubt that she would not have survived. I truly hope with more awareness of the seriousness of living amongst pesticide applications that there will be greater effort to reward health-protective organic farm- ing and to discourage chemical-intensive agriculture. Adding another dangerous pesticide like methyl iodide to the cocktail of toxins used in our farm country just puts more people at risk to experience what I did. No family should ever have to live the nightmare that we have. Photo by David Chatfield2
  3. 3. Josefina MirandaI’m a mother, wife and farmworker living put to work there. At this point, some ofin Earlimart, California, with my husband the workers were experiencing headachesand three children. I work in vineyards and dizziness. Other farmworkers frompicking grapes, tipping grape bunches, and the same field fell ill but were too afraid topruning grapevines. report their symptoms or to seek medical attention.On a Thursday morning in 1995, I entereda field to go to work. It was a couple of Two days later I had a miscarriage. At theyears after the birth of my first child and hospital, the doctor told me the pesticidesI was pregnant for the second time. The weren’t responsible for the miscarriagefield that morning was dripping with what because I didn’t ingest any chemicals. Butlooked like dew. By break time, all our in my heart I believed otherwise.clothes were saturated with the moisturefrom the field. We were so wet it was as if Now at the age of 38 I still work in theit had been raining. I remember wringing fields. My heart goes out to the otherthe moisture out of my over shirt. women who miscarry as a result of pesti- cide exposure. Farmworkers should notI mentioned to my husband that I was have to choose between their jobs and theconcerned the dampness wasn’t dew but health of their families.pesticides. He told me it was just dew. As a farmworker and mother, I stronglyLater in the morning the crew boss came urge the Department of Pesticide Regula-around and told us to move out of the field. tion to think of pregnant women and notIt turned out the field had been sprayed approve the use of another miscarriage-the night before. We shouldn’t have been inducing pesticide.Macario VargasMacario Vargas is 59 years old and has and the pesticide drifted toward the fieldspent his entire life working as a farm- in which he and his coworkers were work-worker in Imperial County. On March 6, ing. He didn’t notice anything was wrong2009 the organization Comité Cívico del until later that evening when he started toValle (CCV) was called to assist Mr. Vargas feel stinging, itching and irritation in hisby an employee of Calexico’s Employment upper body.Development Department. Mr. Vargas hadwalked into the EDD building in distress, The next day he noticed small patches ofcomplaining of extreme pain and numb- blisters developing and felt more pain butness. CCV was called to assist Mr. Vargas, decided to go back to work anyway. Whilebecause CCV had been working with the working he noticed that the leaves of thefarmworker community, providing infor- produce he was picking were covered in amation to farmworkers on how to report white powdery-like substance.pesticide-related illnesses. His symptoms worsened, his blisters grew,Mr. Vargas was in very bad shape when and he started vomiting and experienc-he came in and was in need of immedi- ing extreme pain, discomfort, numbness,ate medical attention. An ambulance was headaches, blurry vision, and irritated eyes. Photos courtesy of Comité Cívico del Vallecalled and he was transported to El Centro Mr. Vargas does not have health insurance,Regional Hospital. and his income is very limited. This was a situation of extreme distress for him. Mr.Mr. Vargas stated that two days before, an Vargas agreed to share his story so thataerial pesticide applicator had applied pes- authorities can learn from his experienceticides in a field two fields away from were and better protect farmworkers from pes-he had been working. It was a windy day, ticide poisoning. 3
  4. 4. Teresa DeAnda My name is Teresa DeAnda. I live in Ear- ordered people to undress and stand in limart, a town of 7,000 residents, most a makeshift decontamination line where of whom are Mexican and Filipino farm- firemen hosed them down using cold, hard workers living in poverty. Vineyards and water from fire trucks. This was around orchards surround our community, and 9:45 p.m., so it was quite cold. Twenty- seeing and smelling pesticides is the norm four people then had to sit naked on cold, here. wet grass until an ambulance arrived. Women describe the night as if they had On November 13, 1999, applicators been raped. One woman pleaded that she neglected to properly monitor the pesticide be allowed to remain dressed in front of they were applying, and it drifted onto the her young sons who had never seen her southeastern side of town. The smell was without clothes. Afterwards, people were intense and sulfuric. The poison was so taken to three different hospitals. Children strong people’s eyes began burning. Many were sent to hospitals different from their people were unable to breathe and devel- mothers, their mothers’ phone numbers oped headaches and dizziness; some even written on their stomachs. began vomiting. Since my family and I live on the street that was most exposed, we At the hospital, people were told the pes- Photo by David Chatfield were the second home to be told to evacu- ticide would not cause them harm. Since ate. My four young kids, husband, elderly that time, the community has learned that blind uncle, elderly godfather, small dogs, this pesticide does, in fact, cause health and I all had to leave town. We had to problems. It has caused severe respiratory leave my larger dogs behind. This was very and neurological damage to several people scary and very sad, not knowing if simply here in Earlimart. Folks who had never breathing was dangerous or not. suffered asthma before have now been diagnosed with it. Residents were rounded up at the Earli- mart Middle School for medical treatment. When we returned home, the odor was Without any cover or privacy, firemen even stronger than when we’d left. After being home a while, my family’s health became severely compromised. My chil- dren became more frequently and more seriously ill. Weeks after the incident, they all came down with ear and throat infec- tions and even bronchitis. My seven-year- old daughter had severe headaches. I was nursing at the time, so I worried about the impact of feeding my baby milk that had this pesticide in it. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the long-term impacts. The incident completely changed my life. I am opposed to any applications that can harm the health of those who live close to where pesticides are applied. I understand that this new pesticide methyl iodide is used in laboratories to create cancer. I can’t believe California would consider allow- ing this chemical to be used on strawberry fields. As a survivor of pesticide poisoning I don’t want to see others suffer the same fate, or worse, due to this new pesticide. Photo by David Chatfield Please do not approve methyl iodide.4
  5. 5. Maria AlonsoOne month ago I began working in an my clothes transferring to my son whileorganic strawberry field here in Moorpark Ventura County. The working condi-tions are so much better than what I recall The foreman showed concern only forfrom working in non-organic fields four production. Our complaints about the badyears ago. I no longer have to worry about odor and symptoms of poisoning were notwiping sweat from my face or getting an a priority for him, and our employer wouldeye irritation or hand rash from picking not take responsibility for our resultingstrawberries covered with white powder. medical bills. Photo courtesy of Organización en California de Líderes Campesinas, IncWhen I worked in non-organic fields, peo- I ask that strawberries no longer be sprayedple often picked strawberries on one row with dangerous pesticides because thesewhile other workers sprayed an adjacent pesticides hurt people. In my case, I can’trow. Suddenly, workers would start feeling go through the summer without wearingsick and begin complaining of eye irritation a sweater or else I get a white rash on myor vomiting. During this time, I developed hands. Medical bills are expensive, whicha white rash on my hand, which comes only adds to the problem. Please take myback every year in the summer. My baby story into consideration and don’t approveson also developed a rash, which his pedia- another dangerous chemical for use in Cal-trician later attributed to the pesticides on ifornia’s strawberry fields.Herminia ArenasI began working in the grape fields 15 years my skin, leaving behind black spots thatago but had to quit after 11 years due to my still persist.deteriorating health. Many times we wereasked to go into the fields to work grapes During another incident, I was amongright after the tractor had just sprayed pes- a group of farmworkers who had beenticides. The powder covered us all. While exposed to pesticides at work. After notify-the foreman would cover his face with a ing the foreman of our symptoms, we werebandana, many of us could not stand the told to drink milk to overcome the effects.bad odor, the nausea, headache, and irri- By the time we returned to work the nexttated eyes. By the afternoon, we would feel day, we had all developed a white rash andso sick that we did not eat our lunches or were suffering from headaches, nausea and Photo courtesy of Organización en Californiaperform our work well. eye irritation. de Líderes Campesinas, IncI recall a time when, after being exposed Very often foremen are only concernedto pesticides, I developed a white rash, for with making sure that the fruit growswhich I was told by the foreman to go to the well and are negligent with farmwork-doctor. I was led to believe that the expense ers’ health. After many years of workingwould be covered because of a deduction in in the fields, I finally had to quit my job,my check. The doctor prescribed a cream, because I have developed asthma and nowand I was unable to work for three days. experience lung pain. The chemicals haveUpon returning to work, I was told that affected me. I know of people who are soI no longer had a job in that field. About sick that they decide to go back to theireighteen people, including me, were stuck home countries just to die. A lot of peoplewith expensive medical bills. After further have suffered due to pesticide exposure.exposure to pesticides, over time I devel- Please don’t approve methyl iodide for useoped a red rash, which eventually dried up in California and contaminate our fieldswith the prescribed cream and fell off of and communities even more. 5
  6. 6. Robert Euresti My name is Robert Euresti and I am a pick us up. As she approached the school, teacher in the Vineland School District, she also began coughing and developed a near Arvin, California, in Kern County. headache. After jumping into her car, we were told to head to Weedpatch Market Two of my colleagues and I were working where we found babies and children crying in my classroom late in the afternoon on and gasping for fresh air. a Saturday in October 2003. At one point my instructional aide walked over to me Many people refused medical treatment complaining she felt dizzy. I too began to and transportation, as they did not have feel dizzy. Suddenly, we both began to tear insurance to pay for medical services. up and cough incessantly. Half an hour Altogether we spent three hours at the earlier, we had both heard an ambulance makeshift site trying to help our students go by. We thought there’d been an acci- understand what had happened. dent, but it turned out they were evacuat-Photo courtesy of Robert Euresti ing babies, children, and adults from the It was an awful night. I do not want anyone apartment complex near our school. else to undergo such a horrible experience. I ask that California not approve methyl They had blocked off the street but my iodide, yet another dangerous poison.  sister was able to drive close enough to Domatila Lemus My name is Domatila Lemus, and I live in kids looking dizzy and almost falling down. Plainview in rural Tulare County. This is It seemed strange to me since it wasn’t a where I have live and worked in the fields hot day. Then I noticed a tractor turning alongside my husband and raised my chil- at the end of the row close to the children, dren and grandchildren. separated from the playground only by a chain link fence. I could see that he was All seven of my children have gone to spraying pesticides. None of the teachers Sunnyside Elementary School, which is noticed what was going on. surrounded by orange groves. The school would always be calling me to say my Three little girls seemed particularly sick; children had rashes, or were vomiting, or they went off to the bathroom. I was very had headaches. Only a fence separates the concerned for them, but also relieved that school from areas where oranges are being my grandkids didn’t get sick.Photo courtesy of El Comité para el Bienestar de Earlimart sprayed with pesticides. When I saw chil- dren becoming ill after they played near We called the County Agriculture Com- areas being sprayed, I complained, but we missioner. When he came to do his inves- never got a response from the Agricultural tigation he found 11 infractions, including Commissioner. an infraction for not having a permit to spray that type of pesticide. In November 2007, I went to the Grand- parents Day celebration at Sunnyside I want authorities to be conscientious and School with my two grandchildren, ages to be active in protecting our health. For 10 and 14. Around 10:30 a.m. all the kids the sake of my grandchildren, I urge those were on the playground having contests for with power not to register this new highly prizes. That’s when I noticed some of the toxic pesticide methyl iodide.6
  7. 7. Marilyn LyndsEvery morning I wake up and look out my others, were forcibly exposed to chemicalsfront door at the field just 25 feet away and linked to cancer.wonder, “Will today be the day that theyfumigate?” Despite efforts to pursue litigation, and despite incredible support from CaliforniaIn 2007, despite objections from my neigh- Rural Legal Assistance and other pro-bonobors, the abutting agribusiness injected the attorneys, we’ve struggled to match the powertoxic trio of chloropicrin, methyl bromide of an industrial grower.and Telone into the soil. These soil fumigantsare remnants of bygone wars and are associ- We’ve tried to work with the grower to putated with a myriad of serious adverse health the land into an agricultural trust, or eveneffects, including cancers and neurological grow other crops more safely, but he hasdisorders. refused to engage with us to find a solution that maintains the agricultural legacy whileWe were forced to flee our homes, with our protecting our health.neighbors, and spend the night in hotels andat friends’ homes. I hope that some day there will be protec- tions for communities like mine, so thatWe had thought we would be safer when we chemicals like the toxic trio aren’t created ingot home. But because of wind and the fog the first place, and that protection zones existalong the coast, the chemical was transported to make sure pesticides never reach my frontinto our homes. Tests later revealed that the door step. Registering another dangerous Marilyn Lynds in front of thechemical had drifted into our homes and pesticide like methyl iodide is a giant step in fumigated strawberry field, acrossremained there. So we, my family and many the wrong direction. the street from her front porch. Photo courtesy of Monterey County Weekly 7
  8. 8. Profiles of PoisonSurvivors of Pesticide PoisoningSay No to Methyl Iodide April 2010 Photo by David ChatfieldReport published by: Californians for Pesticide Reform 49 Powell St #503, San Francisco CA 94102 415-981-3939 www.PesticideReform.orgReport contributors: El Comité para el Bienestar de EarlimartMoss Landing Heights NeighborhoodCommunity and Children’s Advocates Against Pesticide PoisoningAdditional thanks to California Rural Legal Assistance Foundationand Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment