How Will Farmworkers Fare Under New EPA Leadership?

While labor assesses the dangers and opportunities presented by the Trump administration,  a sometimes-overlooked threat to farmworkers’ safety looms: potential cuts to environmental regulation. As James Trimarco and J. Gabriel Ware write in YES! Magazine:

“[New EPA head Scott] Pruitt’s positions on climate change have been widely reported. Less well-known are the threats that his approach to the EPA is likely to pose to farmworkers, a group that is inextricably tied to the environment and the climate. These workers, more than half of whom are undocumented, are already busy fighting against President Trump’s promised deportations—but they say they’re prepared to lobby for climate justice, as well.

Part of the problem is that the farmworkers are “invisible,” says Jeannie Economos, the health and safety project coordinator at the Florida Farmworker Association. Most Americans have little contact with farmworkers, which makes the impact climate change will have on them hard to understand.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. As temperatures climb, farmworkers are among the most exposed. Farmworkers are four times more likely to be affected by heat stress, according to an ongoing study by the Economos’ organization. Plus, Economos says, climate change is already increasing crop diseases and pests, which threaten farmworkers’ jobs.”

With the rise in pests comes the rising use of pesticides — which, over extended exposure, can be harmful to farmworkers:

“…the EPA sets the national rules for pesticide exposure. Those standards were strengthened in 2015 after many years of organizing by farmworkers and their allies. Margaret Reeves, senior scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, says her group worked on the issue for 15 years before the standards were changed. The new rules included language prohibiting farmworkers under the age of 18 from handling pesticides, requiring more training for those who apply pesticides, and mandating that farmers keep records of the pesticides they use.”

For the full story, including some of the resistance organizing happening by and on behalf of farmworkers, visit YES!

Photo by Alex Proimos via flickr (CC-BY-NC)

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