Intensive use of pesticides in California and other agricultural centers presents a risk to farmworkers and their families that is still only dimly understood, writes Dennis J Bernstein.
Industrialized Agriculture is addicted to chemistry in the form of pesticides. The addiction was marketed to the American People, along with other post World War Two miracles such as nylon stockings and the ball point pen. The pen and the nylons, of course, ultimately proved much less dangerous than the chemical fix for company profits.
Between 1947 and 1949, pesticide companies invested nearly $4 billion into expanding their production facilities, and made huge profits. By 1952-53, there were some 10,000 separate new pesticide products registered with the USDA, in what was labeled by journalists and historians as “The Golden Age of Pesticides.”
Today, well over 33 million pounds of fumigants are used in California agriculture each year with over 9 million of cancer-causing chloropicrin alone. For strawberries grown in the state, fumigants account for 87 percent of all pesticide use. A 2014 report by the California Department of Public Health (DPH) found that fumigants dominate the top five pesticides of public health concern sprayed and spread in close proximity to schools.
A disturbing new study out of UCLA’s Sustainable Technology & Policy Program found, in a case study of three fumigant pesticides commonly applied together in California, that “these pesticides may interact to increase the health risk for California farm workers and residents” and regulators do not exercise their authority to regulate the application of multiple pesticides to prevent or decrease risks to human health.
The UCLA study found that “Each of the pesticides … causes adverse health effects in humans or animals, including acute, developmental, reproductive, and neuro-toxicity, and carcinogenicity and mutagenicity. There is a reasonable likelihood that the three pesticides can interact to synergistically increase the toxicity to humans.”
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