It’s no secret that farmworkers bear the heavy burden of poor living conditions, mistreatment, and common lack of access to a number of inalienable rights. Among these rights are a safe workplace. In the field, health issues like accidental injury, pesticide-related illness, and reproductive health problems are so common that they could be considered an occupational hazard.
Farmworkers are subjected to a plethora of health complications linked to the constant physical demand placed on their bodies, as well as constant exposure to harsh elements and toxic pesticides. While the burden is shared by all farmworkers, the heaviest load is placed on mothers-to-be. Heavy lifting, standing for long periods of time, or excessive bending during pregnancy could increase a woman’s chances of injury, preterm birth, or even miscarriage. High physical demands at work have also been associated with menstrual disorders, which can reduce fertility.
Although reproductive health disorders do not solely affect female farmworkers, there is very little information on the effects of pesticides on the male reproductive system besides the lowering of sperm counts. In contrast, female farmworkers may experience complete infertility, spontaneous abortion, complications during pregnancy, and fetal deformity in their unborn child.
Regardless the sex of the baby, pesticide exposure triggers long term effects that extend beyond the complications for mom. Infants are extremely vulnerable to pesticides’ ill effects. This is in part because the blood-brain barrier – a special filter which screens blood before it reaches the delicate brain tissue – takes several months to develop in infants. During that time, pesticides can build in the nervous system of the child. Infants also face pesticide exposure through breast milk, which could lead to abnormal development. Despite this, don’t give up on the natural way! The benefits of breastfeeding are still said to outweigh the possible risks from residual chemicals. As for the long-term effects of fetal pesticide exposure, this is an area of ongoing study as researchers look to establish causal links between prenatal exposure and childhood cancers.
Whether you are male, female, or infant, the evidence of the negative effects of pesticide exposure is strong enough to warrant additional precautions for everyone: even prior to birth. This is why AFOP Health & Safety recommends specific actions to prevent or mitigate this exposure for farmworker families. Knowledge is the key to changing behaviors and, ultimately, to building better habits to protect oneself while working in the field. AFOP Health & Safety contributes to this through critical training not only on pesticide safety, but with a focus on pesticide take-home exposure and pesticide exposure and pregnancy.