Oregon farmworkers are joining advocates across the nation to petition the Environmental Protection Agency, calling on them to ban the use of a toxic pesticide called chlorpyrifos.
The feds banned home use of the insecticide in 2000, but have allowed use on farms to treat crops such as apples, nuts, and corn, and it is even used on wood fences and golf courses.
Ramon Ramirez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, (PCUN) Oregon's farmworker union, said the pesticide is widely used on the west coast, and farm-working communities up and down the coast are feeling the tragic effects.
"We're seeing an increase in cancer rates among farmworkers and we have to stop it now," he said. "And we believe that by petitioning to the EPA we can make our case to the public and also to the government that there needs to be more to protect farmworkers."
Chlorpyrifos is a nerve toxin proven to cause neurological deficits in children who live near the fields. In 2015, the EPA tried to negotiate with the pesticide industry to reduce its use or limit human exposure, but the talks failed. Advocates say they are prepared to take the issue to court if the EPA does not take action soon.
Ramirez said the life expectancy of farmworkers is drastically shorter than that of the general public. However, he said there's never been a national health study on the long-term effects of pesticides on farmworkers, making it difficult for workers to bring their case against the hazardous chemicals to the EPA.
"By not having a national study done, it's hard to scientifically prove that the high cancer rate among farmworkers exists and to pinpoint it for these specific reasons, and that being that farmworkers work on a daily basis with a number of toxic chemicals," Ramirez added.
Ramirez said he's also concerned about the effects of chlorpyrifos on the public.