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Farmworker activists continue to protest the use of pesticides, claiming these chemicals lead to cancer and other illnesses 

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif., (KION-TV)- The People's Tribunal on Pesticide Use and Civil Rights in California conducted an Advisory Opinion report and delivered its findings on Thursday. 

The conference was held in Watsonville to discuss the effects of chemical use in agricultural fields, claiming there is an ongoing civil right violation for agricultural communities.

The 21-page report breaks down information gathered from farmworkers who claim that the use of pesticides has fallen under a systematic racism pattern, affecting people of color and immigrants. 

The document was presented as a collaboration of Lawyers and farmworker families. Among them, Robert Chacanaca, former president of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council and Gregg Macey, professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law.

According to the People's Tribunal on pesticides, Hispanic children in California are 91% more likely to attend school with high levels of pesticide use.

The report also states that around 200 million pounds of pesticide are used in California fields yearly, exposing people who work, live nearby, and attend schools near agricultural fields. 

"Other coworkers were standing up and wondering what was the smell and wondering, like where the smell is coming from, and we turned around, and then we saw how the tractor was spraying pesticides not too far from us,” said Rocio Ortiz, farmworker. 

In October 2023, Safe Ag Safe Schools, or SASS, celebrated the passing of Assembly Bill 652, which they assure to create environmental justice, allowing farmworkers to evaluate pesticides alongside state regulators. Nevertheless, AB652 will not come into effect until the year 2026, Meanwhile, activist want to see results now. 

"After the tractor applied the pesticides, my sister and I, were starting to feel like our eyes were burning, our head was hurting," said Ortiz.  "It's something important for everybody to know that as farmworkers, have a safe place to work."

The coalition for pesticides says about 80% of farmworkers in California are undocumented, and fear retaliation if they protest against chemical spray, yet future generations of workers born in the country, say they're willing to speak up for them.

On Thursday, members of the People's Tribunal represented the voices of over 800 people within the San Joaquin Valley, Ventura Valley, Monterey County and Santa Cruz County. 

"Everyone knows that lives here is that there's a set of policies that is hurting people,” said Jane Selin, co-director of the Statewide Coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform. "And those people, it's not a coincidence, they are largely Latino and indigenous communities."

The research done by People's Tribunal suggest that the use of pesticides causes long-term effects in children and workers exposed to these chemicals, like damage to the brain, lungs and can even lead to cancer. 

"These dynamics are ongoing, they are pervasive, they are heartbreaking, and they do not require lawyers or epidemiologists to prove farmworkers and their families have known about them for generations," said Gregg Macey, professor in the University of California Irvine School of Law.  

Macey also mentioned that for over 25 years, the Environmental Protection Agency had ignored the regulation of pesticides.

It was not until 2012 that the EPA issue its first ever complain of discrimination for pesticide use.

The research informs that farmworkers in the Monterey County are among the most affected out of all counties in California.

Page ten in the report talks about County Agricultural Commissioners (CACs), and says that California's agricultural commissioners are charged with protecting the state's agriculture, environmental, and the public's health and safety. 

In respect to AB652 Juan Hidalgo, County of Monterey Agricultural Commissioner responded

"The Environmental Justice has played a role in the work we do for several years now, in collaboration with State agencies.  Engaging with communities to listen to their concerns and providing information about programs and protective measures to keep communities safe is important and valuable, and has resulted in important pesticide regulatory changes in California in the past few years. Ensuring through our regulatory programs that pesticides are used safe and effectively to be protective of agricultural workers and our communities is part of the fundamental work of my office."

SASS representatives say they are working on Assembly Bill 1864, hoping to bring awareness to farmworkers into using the notification system to be informed when a pesticide has been sprayed. 

This is an ongoing story, KION will have more information on an ongoing special report as it develops.

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Sandra Iveth Santos

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Periodista Multimèdia Bilingüe en Telemundo 23 Costa Central


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