There is a growing concern among farmworkers in Florida that overexposure to pesticides is giving them cancer and causing illness and death. Workers claim that there is no familial history of cancer prior to working around these chemicals. Until recently, workers believed there was no health risk associated to pesticides.
Nurseries will often spray in the morning with workers present instead of in the evening when the workers are not present. Farmworkers claimed they were told the chemicals fed the plant, and so the workers assumed the pesticides were safe. But with the increased numbers of cancer among the community of farmworkers, attitudes started changing.
According to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, it is a violation to allow workers to be exposed to pesticides. The Florida Health Department has determined that certain pesticides have shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies. The studies are more ambivalent, but do indicate a potential link between specific pesticides and cancers. Findings indicate that when humans have exposure to particular pesticides, there is an increase in the risk of getting a particular cancer. However, the consensus is that more research needs to be conducted.
While many believe cancer risk is higher from pesticide exposure, proof is not found easily. Since certain cancers can be caused naturally or chemically, it’s a challenge to prove a connection.
Some attribute pesticide overexposure to poor regulation and inadequate information among farmworkers. Pesticides do undergo many tests to ensure human and environmental safety. Regulations require warning signs in English and Spanish be posted in the areas where pesticides are sprayed. Some believe the regulations don’t go far enough. Currently, there are just over 40 inspectors for all of the nurseries in Florida. Of the more than 800 yearly inspections, some are unannounced, and some are not.
The EPA claims they are considering changes that would offer additional protections.