We celebrate breast cancer awareness month during the month of October. Sadly, we all know someone who received the unfortunate news that they’d contracted this terrible illness. Today we want to remember the battles won and lost by many, especially farmworker women, who are more vulnerable to developing breast cancer than the average woman.
Agricultural workers experience cancer at a higher rate compared to the general population because of their direct contact with highly toxic chemicals. Generally, farmworkers come in contact with pesticides and their residues while they apply it to the crops, as well as during planting, harvesting, weeding, and/or pruning. Pesticide exposure has been linked to cancers, asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and ADHD, and adult neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, among others.
Farmworker Justice stated in a blog that the national and state-level policies around immigration and the rights of immigrants contribute to disparities in cancer rates. Not only do they put more farmworkers in harm’s way, they create an environment in which discrimination is normalized and unnoticed, increasing feelings of fear, stress, and negative coping behaviors, and affecting daily living and working conditions. They create an environment in which the odds are stacked against escaping these conditions.
The publication Organic for All mentions that over 50 pesticides are associated with endocrine disruption. Endocrine disruptors are associated with hormone-influenced cancers such as thyroid, breast, and prostate, as well as learning disabilities, brain development problems, birth defects, obesity, diabetes and reproductive disorders. Therefore, farmers, farmworkers and their families are at a higher risk of developing cancer as well as a host of other conditions.
This population finds itself at a health disadvantage due to the daily exposure of toxic pesticides, and – maybe more importantly – the lack of access to health care. Despite their immigration status, poverty level, or any other factor, farmworkers deserve adequate healthcare. Thankfully, migrant clinics somewhat fill the gap by providing free services to this population. However, not all have the facilities to provide adequate cancer screenings and prevention testing such as mammograms and others.
Every year, AFOP’s Health & Safety trainers provide multiple pesticide safety trainings to over 35,000 farmworkers. The trainings are provided in such way as to engage attendees motivate them to adjust their daily routines so they can avoid exposure to toxic pesticides. Some of our pesticide safety trainings include:
- Worker Protection Standard (WPS)
- Limiting [Pesticide] Exposure Around Families (LEAF)
- Pesticide Exposure & Pregnancy (PEP)
- Jose Learns About Pesticides aka Jose Aprende (geared toward children)
Although AFOP is committed to helping the farmworker community, there is still much more to do. It is time to change. We as a society must continue supporting the farmers and farmworkers who put their lives and the lives of their loved ones at risk. Those who grow and harvest our nation’s food have a right not to be exposed day in and day out to chemicals linked to cancer. For a future without cancer, we shout out to the proper agencies to look into healthier alternatives, create stricter regulations and laws, and make our nation healthier now and in the future.
Not only during this month, but always, AFOP Health & Safety staff will continue providing life-saving tools on how to prevent pesticide exposure through its National Farmworker Training Program (NFTP). And we will forever support, admire, remember, and honor all the fighters, the survivors, and the taken.