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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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How does our nation’s reliance on pesticides affect the health of those who plant and harvest our food?

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on August 24, 2011

Pesticides are designed to harm living organisms. Although many can be used without harm to humans, it’s not surprising that some cause serious health problems. From birth defects to cancers, the health effects of pesticides are felt disproportionately by our nation’s over two million farmworkers.

Farmworkers labor in sprayed fields, sometimes while the fields are still wet. They touch sprayed plants and walk on sprayed soil. They often handle the chemicals, and may have inadequate training to do so. They may live next to or near the treated fields, and may be exposed to pesticides through the air. They bring chemicals home on their shoes, clothes, and skin. Finally, they are generally poor and have limited access to healthcare. In addition to these occupational conditions, farmworkers enjoy fewer workplace protections than other classes of workers. Moreover, the regulatory landscape of pesticide policy prioritizes chemical company profits over farmworker health.

It is in the context of these disparities that we address farmworkers and pesticides. How does our nation’s reliance on pesticides affect the health of those who plant and harvest our food? How does our pesticide use affect the health of those living in surrounding communities? What can we do about these health hazards?

The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.


Pesticides in the Air: Kids at Risk
Janette Brimmer and Patti Goldman

Bilingual Pesticide Labels: Farmworkers Deserve No Less
Jeannie Economos

The Health Costs of Our Food Production System: Pesticide Exposure and Effects on Farmers, Farm Workers, and Rural Residents
Susan Kegley, PhD

Advocating for Policy Change to Require Clinical Diagnostic Tools and Biomonitoring of Exposures to Pesticides

Amy K. Liebman, MPA and Matthew C. Keifer, MD MPH

Farmworker Community Health and Pesticides in the Golden State: Leadership or a Tarnished Record?

Ana Mascareñas

The Safe and Healthy Children Initiative: Increasing the Knowledge and Confidence of Clinicians and Others to Address Farmworker Pesticide Exposures

Marybeth Palmigiano, MPH

US Pesticide Regulation: Weaknesses, Loopholes, and Flaws Undermine Farmworker Health

Jennifer Sass, PhD and Mae Wu, JD


"Shelly" said ..

Has anyone ever heard of the Purge 111 Timed Released Pesticide Machine?? I am furious because I am an employee who has to eat and work around this and when I come home my shirt smells like pesticides and what is more upsetting is no one I get involved with EPA or Health board can do much! I know I am getting sick from this mist in the air. Please if anyone can help me on what to do let me know. I am in super fear of loosing my job and cannot lose my job. Please research this Purge 111 machine. I have found out it is being used in Banks and Restaurants and all kinds of establishments. It is a small white box that dispenses pesticides in the air every 15 minutes. It is super concentrated in the back of the restaurant where I work. I can be contacted at 928-200-4317

August 10, 2013
Jan Marquart said ..

I read a study about five years ago out of Watsonville, California. Migrant workers were giving birth to children with increased incidents of hearing disorders due to the pesticides in their parents' bodies.

April 17, 2012
Alyssa Owens said ..

Many people are suffering from toxic symptoms due to exposures to pesticides used in lawn care. One does not need to use these toxins to suffer from their harmful health effects. It is imperative that we educate and improve policy.

September 20, 2011

Comments closed.