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Farmworkers Plagued by Pesticides, Red Tape

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Laboring in the blackberry fields of central Arkansas, the 18-year-old Mexican immigrant suddenly turned ill. Her nose began to bleed, her skin developed a rash, and she vomited.

The doctor told her it was most likely flu or bacterial infection, but farm worker Tania Banda-Rodriguez suspected pesticides. Under federal law, growers must promptly report the chemicals they spray.

It took the worker, and a Tennessee legal services lawyer helping her, six months to learn precisely what chemical doused those blackberry fields. The company ignored her requests for the information. The Arkansas State Plant Board initially refused to provide records to her lawyer, saying it didn't respond to out-of-state requests. An Arkansas inspector, dispatched after the complaint, didn't initially discern what pesticides were used the day the worker became ill, records show.

When answers finally arrived - the fungicide was Switch 62.5WG, a chemical that can irritate the eyes and skin - Banda-Rodriguez had already left Arkansas to follow the season to Virginia and ultimately returned to Mexico. She never learned whether the pesticide sickened her.

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