By: Juliana Hinton, Communications Coordinator
Farm work is considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. Among the many reasons why, there is the high (and often unnoticed) risk of pesticide exposure. Imagine how many objects you touch and brush up against on a daily basis at your job, now imagine them laden with an invisible poison that can have immediate or long-term negative health effects. That is how pesticides act in the daily life of a farmworker. So not only is it vital that farmworkers are aware that pesticides are there, but also what the health effects are and how they can protect themselves.
Many pesticides that are applied in a liquid form go unnoticed; although they are at first visible, once they are applied to crops, they dry to become residue and can take form as a sticky or powdery substance on produce and plants. This residue can also fall to the ground and mix in with the soil, which can then be carried in dirt in the wind. It seems as though pesticides are coming at all angles to potentially cause harm to farmworkers. Pesticides are first and foremost made with intentions to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered pests. So there’s no wonder they also have consequences when exposed to humans. They are pure poison in liquid and dry forms. Many pesticides have been known to have health effects on farmworkers such as nausea, vomiting, rash, and long term effects such as Alzheimer’s and various types of cancer. Pesticides especially affect pregnant women and children; which, when exposed to pesticides can lead to miscarriages, preterm births, low birth weight, birth defects and learning problems in children.
The four main ways that pesticides enter the body are through the skin, inhaled, orally, and the eyes. Knowing this information; the next step one should take? Cover these areas while working. Farmworkers should ideally wear long-sleeve shirts that are light-colored, of natural materials (cotton), and a clean shirt every day. The latter point is key because even after one day of working in the fields, you may not see it, but that shirt will be saturated in pesticides. However, access to affordable clothes stores and washing machines can often be limited for farmworkers.
This is a huge part of why AFOP Health & Safety Programs “National Long-Sleeve Shirt Drive” is so vital to farmworker communities. By donating long-sleeve shirts to farmworkers, they can help themselves to better mitigate pesticide exposure. We are eliminating the worry of whether to buy a new shirt or wear an unsuitable shirt and expose themselves to pesticides. It is a small and effortless act to donate a long-sleeve shirt, but it can add up to have many more positive consequences.