Molina Collaborates with Friends of Farmworkers on Environmental Health Research Initiative

Posted on 2/4/2015 4:09:23 PM

Hilario Molina, MARTI research associate and sociology professor, is spearheading a farmworker environmental health and research project in collaboration with Friends of Farmworkers (FOF).

In January 2015, Molina initiated a new MARTI (Mid-Atlantic Addiction Research and Training Institute) outreach and research initiative in partnership with Friends of Farmworkers. FOF is an organization that has provided free legal aid to Pennsylvania farmworkers for almost 40 years. Together, they submitted a research proposal to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Justice Small Grants Program. The research project, titled “Fulfilling the Promise: Empowering Farmworkers and Overcoming Pesticide-Related Environmental and Health Challenges in Northwestern Pennsylvania,” provides education sessions on exposure to pesticides to farmworkers in Erie County, Pa.

The new initiative is important and timely. Until recently, the EPA and other government agencies have fallen short in informing and protecting all farmworkers, not just pesticide handlers, against pesticide exposure. More attention is now being devoted to this problem, and for good reason. The Natural Resources Defense Council found that “the great majority—88 percent—of farmworkers are Latinos; they and their families face regular pesticide exposure, which can lead to increased risks of lymphoma, prostate cancer, and childhood cancers” (NRDC, 2004).  Farmworkers who mix, load, and apply pesticides are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure than other workers because of spills, splashes, and inadequate protections; harvesters face exposure from direct spray, drift, or contaminated crops and soils. Farmworker family members are also vulnerable as pesticide residues are introduced to homes through the workers’ person and clothing; and pesticide drift contaminates homes near agricultural fields. Immediate health effects of pesticide exposure include rashes, eye irritations, and nausea and vomiting; long-term exposure can cause cancer, neurological disorders, reproductive health problems, and birth defects.

In addition, Molina will work with students from IUP’s Tlacuilo Honor Society to develop language-appropriate resources to be used in the pesticide education workshops. Examples of said resources are: an image-rich Spanish language pamphlet that explains pesticide exposure and related health risks; Spanish language CDs with narration for pesticide exposure and workers’ rights in obtaining health and medical care and legal recourse; and a bilingual (English-Spanish languages) pocket-sized resource card with contact information of local, state, and federal agencies that support and aid farmworkers with pesticide exposure and other health issues. As a precaution, FOF lawyers will review all material for accuracy in the presentation of legal issues.