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Hispanic Farmworkers Seek Tighter Controls on Pesticide Use

LOS ANGELES - Hispanic farmworkers in California poisoned by pesticides are demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exercise greater control over toxic substances used in agriculture.

"Two years ago we were picking grapes, some 50 of us workers, on a Guimarra company farm in Bakersfield, when a misty wave swept over us and everyone started coughing," Artemisa Martinez, 43, told Efe.

"We left the field immediately, but I saw two women who stayed vomiting in the rows, one of them pregnant," she said.

On the farm in the Las Curvas region where the laborers were working, Martinez said, a strong wind had swept in the pesticide from crops being sprayed nearby.

"Firefighters arrived immediately and in the shower of a nursery school where they had removed the children, they told us to wash the poison off of ourselves. Luckily the pregnant woman didn't lose her baby," Martinez, a member of the United Farm Workers union, said.

The case of Martinez and her fellow-workers is just one of hundreds of similar accidents occurring every year in the fields of California.

In this state it is estimated that approximately 150 million pounds (68 million kilos) of insecticides are sprayed from vehicles and crop-dusting airplanes, and that when they are swept along by the wind they poison the farmworkers and everyone around.

Due to the constant accidents all over the country, the EPA recently proposed new regulations on the use of aerial pesticides with a view to limiting the number of people being poisoned.

Dale Kemery, an EPA spokesperson, told Efe that to print the new rules on pesticide labels next year, his office is inviting the public and victims of accidental poisoning in the fields to offer their opinions and suggestions by March 5, 2010 at the latest.

"Pesticides in spray or powder carried by the wind away from the crops they are intended for can damage health and the environment," Kemery said.

"For the new regulations, EPA has received petitions from environmental organizations and farmworkers that security zones be created around houses, schools and nursery schools where spraying pesticides is banned," he said.

In that respect Martinez, who fears that her grandchildren who live and study near the fields will be poisoned by poorly planned crop spraying, said that in such accidents everyone loses.

"That happens because of the bosses' carelessness - they're only interested in making money and don't care about the health of workers and kids in schools near the fields," she said.

"I think they should eliminate pesticides, because there are other ways to control pests and grow good crops without using poison," Martinez said.