For untold thousands of families growing up near the fields, pesticide safety education is key to protecting one’s self. Understanding safe handling practices and smart protective measures shields individuals from the hazards of exposure to the chemicals meant to mitigate pests, which linger long after application in air, soil, and water, and even household possessions. There are federally funded programs that ensure that individuals are properly trained prior to working with these particular substances, because education is a proven method of effective prevention. There are even programs at the university level dedicated to promoting and distributing agricultural materials which include pesticide safety education.
This is great news – but, what about the younger generations of children in agricultural areas that are exposed to these chemicals? Who is enabling them to protect themselves?
There are wonderful programs like 4-H and FFA that place a focus on agriculture for young people, but they have one downfall. They cater to children young people who demonstrate interest in agriculture, but for the most part don’t attract children, like those in migrant farmworker families, who simply grow up dealing with its negative byproducts. Who is educating those children on how pesticide drift can exacerbate their asthma? Or, how it might not be safe to play in the puddles in the school yard if they’re runoff from the adjacent field? These are simple, but vital, questions.
In the decade that I’ve spent working on farmworker issues I’ve been afforded the opportunity to travel the U.S. and see parts of the country that most people look past. It’s been an amazing and eye-opening experience but can be heartbreaking, knowing that because of their isolated location many rules are overlooked in these places as well. Across the country, each agricultural center I’ve visited has demonstrated an interesting constant: the proximity of schools to the fields.
By federal law it is required that anyone working in a pesticide-treated area be trained on pesticide safety prior to beginning work. And, yes: there are buffer zones and application exclusion zones intended to keep individuals safe from pesticides as they are applied. But, we all know that there are accidental targets which are exposed to pesticides by human error, weather, or any number of other reasons. Why aren’t we educating children on when it’s safe to play outside, and what precautions to take when playing near in a schoolyard which is near the fields?
AFOP Health & Safety – and our Children in the Fields Campaign (CIFC) dedicated to advocating for farmworker children – is doing more than just raising questions. In addition to promoting their academic advancement, the CIFC trains farmworker children from age three to 10 on pesticide safety. Why farmworker children? Because we know that they are constantly coming into contact with pesticides and residues as a consequence of their environment, and education empowers them to protect themselves and their families from early in life. A child is never too young to learn about taking their health into their own hands.
Education is foundational to the health of future generations; let’s make our children’s wellbeing a priority.