Organic Consumers Association

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Agro-Chemicals Take a Toxic Toll in Rural Chile

(Sept. 7, 2007) Like most residents in María Pinto, a rural township some 60 kilometers northwest of Santiago, Isabel Blanco supports herself and her family with what she can grow - in her case, flowers.

It's a precarious business, one that offers little room for error. On a good week Blanco's two greenhouses yield just three boxes of carnations, which she can then sell for approximately US$75 each. The loss of a box or two can be financially devastating.

Insects can be a major problem. All it takes are a few perforations in the flowers and they're valueless. To combat the problem, Blanco periodically applies a pesticide called Tamaron. "It kills all the bugs. All of them, everything that's there. The snails too. It's very effective," she says.

But it's also extremely toxic. Although Blanco says she's accustomed to the product, she admits she once fainted after spraying it on her flowers. Another time she vomited. The product has had the same affect on her assistant, who regularly complains of headaches, nausea and dizziness.

"That's why I don't want to use it anymore, because I have children. And the kids always go in the greenhouses. It's bad," says Blanco, whose five-year-old daughter, right on cue, darts into one of the greenhouses. "I've also got an older daughter who until recently helped me (with the flowers). Now she says, 'Mom, I'm not going back into the greenhouse. I don't know what it was that you sprayed that made me so sick, that gave me an allergy, but it was really bad for me.'"

Still, Blanco finds herself in a bind. As much as she wants to stop using the pesticide, she won't give up on it completely. In fact, after holding out for several months, Blanco recently sprayed her greenhouses once again. "I really had to," she says. "It was like I had to do something  because there were too many bugs. They were eating everything. I can't sell these flowers if they have holes in them. No one will buy them."

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