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EPA Bans Pesticide that Poisons Farmworkers

Seattle, WA  -- The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will phase out the use of a pesticide that poisons farmworkers. EPA took the action after as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by farmworkers challenging EPA's decision to allow continued use of this pesticide.   
"This pesticide has put thousands of workers at risk of serious illness every year," said Erik Nicholson of the United Farmworkers of America.  "The phase out is welcome, although it should have come years ago."   
The pesticide, azinphos-methyl ("AZM"), is a highly toxic organophosphate neurotoxin.  Organophosphate pesticides, derived from nerve agents used during World War II, attack the human nervous system.  Exposure can cause dizziness, vomiting, seizures, paralysis, loss of mental function, and death.  Farmworker families and communities are exposed to organophosphates through "take-home" exposures on clothing, cars, and skin.   
Under federal law, EPA decides which pesticides may be used throughout the United States.  In 2001, EPA had found that AZM poses unacceptable risks to workers, but it allowed the pesticide to continue to be used for four more years because less toxic alternatives were more costly. Farmworker advocates had challenged that decision in federal court in Seattle because EPA failed to account for the costs of poisoning workers, exposing children, and polluting rivers and streams to the detriment of endangered species.  The farmworker groups bringing the lawsuit were United Farm Workers of America ("UFW"), Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste ("PCUN"), Beyond Pesticides, and  Frente Indígena Oaxaqueño Binacional. As a result of the lawsuit, EPA committed to reconsider whether to ban AZM, and on June 9, 2006, it announced its decision to phase-out AZM use completely within four years.     
In its proposed decision, EPA would phase out all uses of AZM by 2010 with some uses phased out by 2007.  The decision would also eliminate aerial spraying, require 100 foot buffers around water bodies, reduce application rates, require buffers around buildings and occupied dwellings, and require medical monitoring of workers entering fields sprayed by AZM.   
"It is outrageous that EPA allowed continued use of this pesticide knowing that it would expose farmworkers to unacceptable risks of pesticide poisonings," said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice.  "Since growers have already had four years to shift to other pest controls, there is no reason to subject workers and their communities to more poisonings for another four years."     
AZM is used primarily to kill insects on orchard crops such as apples, cherries, pears, preaches and nectarines.  The highest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.     
"EPA had turned its back on the men, women, and children who are threatened by an extremely hazardous pesticide that should be replaced with new safer alternatives," said Shelley Davis, attorney for the Farmworker Justice.   "It is time to make that shift now."   

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