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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | chapter wide


Methyl bromide poisoning devastates farm workers’ health


Bush Administration undermines international treaty that would ban the pesticide

[en Espanol]

After working on some of the country's most fertile fields, Jorge Fernández and Guillermo Ruiz of Salinas live barren lives.

Jorge Fernández and Guillermo Ruiz have worked with the dangerous pesticide, methyl bromide for 12 years. Both now suffer health consequences that prevent them from working.

Durante 12 años, Jorge Fernández y Guillermo Ruiz han trabajado con el peligroso pesticida bromuro metílico. Ahora los dos sufren secuelas médicas que les impiden trabajar.

For 12 years, both men worked in dozens of fields in California and Arizona with one of the most dangerous pesticides known-methyl bromide. Today, Jorge and Guillermo's health is devastated. They both complain of blurred vision, head, throat, ear and abdomen aches, in addition to rashes.

The EPA rates methyl bromide among the most powerful class of toxic chemicals. In California alone, 18 people have died and hundreds have been poisoned by it.

Both Jorge and Guillermo have ended up disabled and blame methyl bromide and their former bosses, who did not follow safety rules for its application, for their misfortune.

"I was never informed that this was harmful," says Jorge, who has been unable to work since September 2003. "Now I know that after cutting the tarps that cover the fields, we should have waited 24 hours before removing them. But they would send us in right away."

Guillermo, who has also been out of work since September 2003, says, "They would just give us a pair of plastic pants and a paper mask which provided no protection. There were days when I could not speak because within a couple of hours the gas would burn your throat."

It was the devastating effects of methyl bromide on the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun's dangerous ultraviolet rays, that led 166 nations to sign the Montreal Protocol in 1987. This pact, one of the most important environmental victories in history, mandated that its signatories completely phase out methyl bromide, except in extraordinary cases, by 2005.

But the Bush administration is once again undermining international cooperation and agreements. Earlier this year the administration requested exemptions from the treaty that would allow the continued use of thousands of pounds of methyl bromide, especially in agricultural fields. In March, the administration was granted these exemptions, at least for this year. So now instead of phasing out this poison, workers like Jorge and Guillermo will continue applying it-even though there are viable alternatives for 95 percent of the uses of methyl bromide.

For the chemical producers and agribusiness this is a windfall. The Gottwald family, the owners of Albemarle, one of the largest manufacturers of methyl bromide, donated $345,000 to Bush and the Republican Party between 2000 and 2002. And agribusiness gave $2.7 million to the Bush campaign in 2000.

According to a Pesticide Action Network study, the average American carries unhealthy levels of pesticides, with Mexican-Americans, like Jorge and Guillermo, showing disproportionately high levels.

"We get to do this job just because we are Mexicans," Jorge says. "Why doesn't Mr. Bush come and do it instead?"

 

For more information about methyl bromide contact:

Para más información sobre el bromuro metílico contacte a/

California Rural Legal Assistance, Georgina Mendoza, 831-757-5221. gmendoza@crla.org, www.crla.org.

Pesticide Action Network, Kristin Schafer or Susan Kegley, 415-981-1771, panna@panna.org, www.panna.org

 

El Envenenamiento de bromuro metílico devasta la salud de trabajadores

La Administración Bush socava un tratado internacional que prohibiría el pesticida

Después de trabajar en algunos de los campos más fértiles del país, Jorge Fernández y Guillermo Ruiz viven una existencia estéril.

Durante 12 años, los dos recorrieron decenas de plantaciones en California y Arizona trabajando con uno de los pesticidas más peligrosos que se conocen, el bromuro metílico. Hoy, la salud de Jorge y Guillermo está destrozada. Ambos se quejan de vista borrosa, dolores de cabeza, garganta, oído y abdomen, y ardores en la piel.

La Agencia de Protección Medioambiental lo incluye en su categoría de las sustancias más tóxicas. Sólo en California, desde 1985 al menos 18 personas han muerto y cientos han sido intoxicadas por él.

Los dos han quedado incapacitados para trabajar y culpan de sus desgracias al bromuro metílico y a los patrones, quienes no siguieron las reglas de seguridad para su aplicación.

"A mi nunca me informaron que esto hacía daño," dice Jorge, quien lleva incapacitado desde septiembre de 2003. "Ahora sé que después de cortar los plásticos que cubrían los campos, deberíamos haber esperado 24 horas antes de retirarlos. Pero nos metían enseguida."

"[El patrón] no cumplía con las reglas y no nos daba el equipo apropiado," recuerda Guillermo, quien también lleva incapacitado desde septiembre de 2003. "Nos daban un puro pantalón de plástico y máscaras de papel que no protegen nada. Había días que no podía hablar porque en un par de horas te quemaba la garganta."

Pero fue el devastador efecto del bromuro metílico en la capa de ozono lo que llevó a 166 naciones a firmar en 1987 el Protocolo de Montreal, una de las mayores victorias medioambientales de la historia. El pacto obliga a todos sus signatarios a eliminar por completo el uso del bromuro metílico para 2005, excepto en casos extraordinarios.

Pero la administración Bush de nuevo está socavando los tratados internacionales. A principios de 2004, la Casa Blanca solicitó excepciones para seguir inyectando este pesticida en campos agrícolas. En marzo las consiguió, al menos para 2004; y ahora en lugar de estar a punto de eliminar por completo este veneno, braceros como Jorge y Guillermo seguirán aplicándolo a cosechas, pese a que para el 95% de los usos hay alternativas menos dañinas.

Para los fabricantes químicos y los conglomerados agrícolas esto significa un negocio redondo. La familia Gottwald, dueña de Albemarle, uno de los mayores productores de bromuro metílico, donó a Bush y al Partido Republicano $345,000 entre 2000 y 2002. Y los conglomerados agrícolas dieron $2.7 millones a la Campaña de Bush en 2000.

Según un estudio de la Pesticide Action Network, el estadounidense promedio lleva en su cuerpo niveles no saludables de pesticidas, y los hispanos de origen mexicano, como Jorge y Guillermo, tienen niveles especialmente altos.

"Este trabajo nos toca hacerlo porque somos mexicanos," dice Jorge. " Por qué no viene el Sr. Bush a hacerlo?"

Reprinted with permission from Latino Communities at Risk. To see the full report including references or to view the companion Spanish-language television ad, visit: www.sierraclub.org/comunidades. The printed report may be obtained by calling the Sierra Club office in Santa Cruz, 426-4453 or the Sierra Club Bookstore in Carmel, 624-8032.




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