Farm pesticides linked to skin cancer; Decline in male births; New protections for farmworkers; ‘Fair Food’ pledge by Aramark

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

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Support Panups!April 9, 2010

Not just the sun: Farm pesticides linked to skin cancer

Spray pesticidesA new study published earlier this year in Environmental Health Perspectives indicates that sun exposure may not be the only major factor in risk of melanoma for agricultural workers, according to Environmental Health News. Researchers from the University of Iowa, the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, and the National Cancer Institute found that repeated exposure to maneb, mancozeb, methyl-parathion, carbaryl, benomyl and ethyl-parathion doubled the risk of the deadly skin cancer. The research, part of the federal government’s long-term Agricultural Health Study, looked at cancer rates among 56,285 pesticide applicators living in Iowa and North Carolina. While the overall melanoma rates among the study’s participants were low, the dramatic increase for those exposed to particular pesticides has major implications for the rest of the population. Carbaryl, one of the cancer-related pesticides identified in the study, was an active ingredient in the popular home and garden pesticide Sevin, which is now cancelled in the U.S. for those applications. The researchers point out that while pesticide applicators are regularly trained in safe handling and
application methods and use protective equipment, home consumers may not read the safety warning label and fail to take such precautions. While two of the pesticides implicated in the study, benomyl and ethyl-parathion, were voluntarily cancelled during a 2008 EPA review process, the other four remain approved by the EPA for some uses, including a variety of crops including nuts, vegetables and fruits.

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Dramatic decline in male births linked to hazardous POPs

Aamjiwnaang girlsWhen the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, an Aanishinaabek community, realized that they had enough girls for three baseball teams but not even enough boys for one, they decided to investigate. Based in Canada’s 
“Chemical Valley” — an area on the border of Ontario and Michigan, just south of Sarnia, Ontario — the indigenous community soon discovered that scientific studies showing that mothers living in communities in the Arctic were giving birth to girls at a much higher rate than boys. According to Indian Country Today, the skewed sex ratios are linked to exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs and DDT. Such chemicals that are used elsewhere in the world are known to migrate to the Arctic and accumulate in the northern food chain, where they end up in the traditional diet of Indigenous peoples.

While scientists have been reporting declines in male births worldwide for years, the rate of change is steeper among the Aamjiwnaang Anishinaabek than that reported anywhere else. The tribe’s own investigation unearthed earlier studies from their region, one of which found mercury levels 100 times higher than the “Severe Effect Level” set by the Canadian government. Exposing Canada’s Chemical Valley, a 2007 report by Ecojustice Canada, identified 62 petrochemical and manufacturing facilities in Canada and the U.S. that have made the area Ontario’s worst air pollution hotspot. “What is particularly striking about the air pollution in the Sarnia area is the immense quantity of toxic chemicals emitted,” says Dr. Elaine McDonald, Ecojustice Canada’s senior scientist and author of the report. “There is growing evidence that the health of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation members and the local environment has been severely compromised.” 

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Pesticide poisoning bill strengthens farmworker protection

FarmworkersNew legislation in California would require that state regulators be informed whenever laboratories find evidence of pesticide poisoning. “California would be the first state to collect this data on such a large scale, coordinating multiple labs,'” Margaret Reeves, a senior scientist at PAN, told the Associated Press in a story published in the The New York Times. “California should be a model in setting the path for national monitoring of pesticide illness.” While current California law does require physicians to report all known or suspected cases of pesticide-related illnesses, many cases go unreported because both doctors and workers fail to report. Laboratories that test for pesticide poisoning are required to report results to the patient’s physician, but do not pass the information on to any state agency. Workers who regularly handle organophosphate or carbamate pesticides must have regular blood tests to check for a reduction in cholinesterase, an enzyme key to health functioning of the nervous system. Abnormal results must be reported to the county health department, but not to the Department of Pesticide Regulation. “The way things are structured now, the full information is not available to public agencies that have a specific responsibility to follow up on farmworker health,” explained state Assembly member Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) who wrote the bill, in the AP article. “This makes no sense from a public safety standpoint.” Pesticide Action Network is one of the sponsors of Nava’s bill.

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Foodservice giant Aramark pledges ‘Fair Food’

Hands wroking food“Chalk up another one for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Florida-based community organization that has been trying for decades to improve the grim lot of migrant tomato pickers, most of whom toil for less than minimum wage,” writes Barry Estabrook in his Politics of the Plate blog. Last week, the campus foodservice company Aramark joined other major restaurant and food industry companies by signing a “Fair Food Agreement,” promising to address wages and working conditions of farmworkers in Florida. The agreement followed an effective organizing campaign that joined college students with the CIW. “For 26-year-old Florida Gulf Coast University political science major Angela Cisneros, the campaign is more than political; it’s personal, ” according to a report on the agreement in the Ft. Myers News-Press. “The U.S.-born Cisneros, the daughter of former Immokalee farmworkers who are now U.S. citizens, remembers living in a … labor camp as a child as her family faced ‘a hard life that a regular American wouldn’t be able to fathom.'” Both student and faculty senates at FGCU supported the Aramark agreement. Richard Blake, a University of Florida student and member of the Gainesville chapter of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, told the Gainesville Sun that the Alliance is targeting the huge Publix grocery chain next. It is planning a march from Tampa to Lakeland — site of Publix’s headquarters — later this month, to pressure the company to sign a similar agreement.

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