On Cinco de Mayo, there was pesticide drift that stopped farmworkers from harvesting southwest of Bakersfield in Kern County. The workers were in the process of harvesting cabbage when they began to get sick. According to a television news report, the pesticide odor came in from a mandarin orchard west of the cabbage field that was sprayed the night previous with Vulcan, an organophosphate-based chemical. About 12 people reported symptoms of vomiting, nausea and one person fainted. In the end, more than 50 farmworkers were exposed.
The shocking and sad part is that the active ingredient in the insecticide the workers were exposed to is chlorpyrifos, which was slated to be banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama administration. However, in March that ban was canceled. The EPA said there wasn’t enough solid evidence. Chlorpyrifos is reported to cause severe neurotoxic symptoms in humans if touched, inhaled, or eaten.
For more than 15 years, it was banned for residential use, but can still be used in agriculture. This cannot go on.
Many people do not realize that people who are exposed to pesticides working in agricultural fields are at a higher risk of getting cancer.
This is an issue that hits home for me. In 2002, my father, Sebastian Sanchez, who worked in the Salinas Valley agricultural fields, died due to non-Hodgkin lymphoma — a cancer associated with pesticide exposure. As a former farmworker who also worked in the Salinas Valley agricultural fields, I have firsthand experience with how farmworkers were, and are still, impacted by pesticides. I remember one day when I and other workers were sprayed while working in the fields. I thought it was starting to rain, but I looked up to see a small plane overhead spraying pesticides.
I will always fight for a worthwhile cause that has no voice. In essence — I am a farmworker in spirit. I miss my father so much — he fought so hard to beat non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
As consumers — as human beings — we must take action with the EPA, bombard them with calls, letters to stop using these dangerous chemicals that affect the entire community.
Victoria Sanchez De Alba is a Bay Area communications consultant. Her work on raising awareness of the dangers of pesticides to farmworkers has earned her a nomination for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “San Francisco Woman of the Year” award.