EPA & America's Farmworkers: Helping Create a Safer Work Environment

By Cindy Ramirez
I am the granddaughter of a Bracero. In 1961, my grandfather was part of the guest worker program – unofficially called the Bracero program – that allowed Mexican men to work temporarily in U.S. agriculture. I was told by my grandfather that when he arrived, officials sprayed him with pesticides to kill the “Mexican fleas,” an experience shared by over 2 million other men, so he could work in the U.S. For the next two years, he worked on the tomato farms of California to help his young family back home in the rural mountains of central Mexico. Today, millions of farmworkers continue to migrate here seasonally or immigrate permanently in search of agricultural work. 

My grandfather's Bracero ID card

My grandfather’s Bracero ID card

 As an intern with EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, I learned that even though farmworkers are not sprayed with pesticides like my grandfather was, some are still exposed to the harmful chemicals simply because of where they work.
Lessening the risk of occupational pesticide exposure in agriculture is the purpose of EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard. Now, EPA is proposing to amend its 1992 regulation so that almost 2 million workers can benefit from annual pesticide safety training that will include how to better protect themselves from pesticide exposure in the workplace and from bringing pesticides home on their clothes, exposing their families to chemicals. The proposal also includes updated personal protective equipment standards for pesticide handlers; a first-time ever minimum age requirement for pesticide handlers and some workers; improvements in the notification of pesticide treated areas; and access to information on pesticide application, the pesticide label, and safety data for farmworkers and their advocates.

Buckets typically used by migrant workers to pick tomatoes.

Buckets typically used by migrant workers to pick tomatoes.

I have seen America’s farmworkers work despite many risks, including pesticide exposure, in order to provide for their families who are either back home or alongside them in the fields. My grandfather experienced similar hardships to help make a better life for his children. The amendment to EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard will help make a safer work environment for current and future farmworkers.
Let EPA know your views by commenting on the farmworker proposal.
About the author: Cindy Ramirez is an intern working at EPA in Washington, DC, on projects related to farmworker outreach, pesticide safety, and the EPA regulation for worker protection.