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Farmworker Health Act Passed Key Committee Today

(Sacramento) – The Farmworker Health Act, Assembly Bill 1963, by Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), successfully passed the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee today.

The measure, cosponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, the California Health Officers Association, and Pesticide Action Network of North America, will reduce pesticide poisoning in California by streamlining the tracking of pesticide usage and exposure by state officials.

“Farm workers are regularly exposed to potentially harmful pesticides risking birth defects, non-hodgkins lymphoma, leukemia and other life threatening diseases to help bring food to our tables,” said Assemblymember Nava. “It is critical that we provide this vital workforce with the best possible protections from chemicals that adversely affect their health.” 
As part of their job, farm workers in California load, mix, and apply hazardous pesticide chemicals, including organophosphates and carbamates. These pesticides work by inhibiting a nerve enzyme called cholinesterase (ChE), which is essential to maintaining normal nerve function.

Symptoms of ChE depression include: impaired reproduction; an increased risk of spontaneous abortion and congenital defects resulting in fetal death and altered birth parameters such as low birth weight and birth length; a weakened immune system; an increased risk of non-hodgkins lymphoma and leukemia; increased incidence of asthma; nerve damage; and neurotoxilogically related death.

Approximately 5 million pounds were applied in California in 2008.

According to a law enacted in 1974, employers who require workers to apply these pesticides must test workers’ ChE levels to ensure that workers' health is not endangered. Unfortunately, there is no requirement for test results to be delivered to any state agency responsible for worker health.

AB 1963 is a simple fix to an outdated law – it would require electronic reporting of lab results to relevant state agencies that can protect workers and prevent pesticide poisonings.

“The testing program is over 30 years old; it's high time to make a modest adjustment so that state authorities can determine if the program is protecting farm workers from easily preventable pesticide exposure, or not,” said Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network of North America. “Reporting test results is both feasible and necessary for the protection of thousands of workers who routinely handle highly hazardous neurotoxins.”
Electronic reporting will allow authorities, including the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, to implement necessary safety precautions in work places with high exposure levels. These changes can include evaluating current safety precautions, changing handling practices, improving pesticide safety training, and general sanitation and decontamination practices. 

Additionally, electronic reporting can provide increased medical supervision of workers.
AB 1963 will lead to improvements in the workplace safety and reduce farm worker exposure to harmful pesticides.
The measure now moves to the Assembly Health Committee for consideration in the coming weeks.

Website of Assemblymember Nava:

Contact: John Mann (916) 718-7420

Here are links to audio of Assemblymember Nava:

Assemblymember Nava’s opening remarks at today’s committee hearing.Assemblymember Nava says AB 1963 is simple, common sense legislation to make sure workers are being protected.{mp3remote}"> mp3