Latino Migrant Farmworkers in Lowcountry South Carolina: A Demographic Profile and an Examination of Pesticide Risk Perception and Protection in Two Pilot Case Studies

By Halfacre-Hitchcock, Angela; McCarthy, Deborah et al. | Human Organization, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview
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Latino Migrant Farmworkers in Lowcountry South Carolina: A Demographic Profile and an Examination of Pesticide Risk Perception and Protection in Two Pilot Case Studies


Halfacre-Hitchcock, Angela, McCarthy, Deborah, Burkett, Tracy, Carvajal, Alicia, Human Organization


Migrant and seasonal farmworkers face greater exposure to chemicals applied during the growing, harvesting, transporting, and processing of food than other consumers of produce in the United States since they work directly with agricultural toxins and report difficulty accessing health care and other basic needs. Little is known regarding the life opportunities and challenges faced by the contemporary community of migrant farmworkers in the geographic region of lowcountry South Carolina. This paper, which analyzes two interlocking pilot studies, makes a nascent attempt to fill this knowledge gap by presenting descriptive data that summarizes the unique circumstances faced by lowcountry migrant farmworkers due to cultural, language, transportation, education, healthcare, income, and other demographic characteristics. Our findings also support existing evidence that indicates, first, that migrant farmworkers are not receiving adequate pesticide safety training and, second, that even when they do receive training these programs do not necessarily increase protective measures and behaviors. Finally, we conclude by suggesting that future research be conducted to investigate whether the unique combination of socioeconomic and cultural characteristics of migrant farmworkers may be contributing to the lack of effectiveness of current pesticide training and education programs.

Key words: Latino migrant labor, farmworker health, pesticide safety, South Carolina, risk perception

Introduction

The literature on risk perception and management has increasingly pointed to the need for the incorporation psychological, social, economic, and political variables into governmental decision making regarding the determination of allowable risk, the management of risk, and the design and implementation of training and education policies and programs for the use of protective behaviors and equipment (e.g., Acosta et al. 2005; Johnson and Chess 2003; Lichtenberg and Zimmerman 1999; Peters, Covello, and McCallum 1997; Satterfield, Mertz, and Slovic 2004; Vaughan 1993a, 1993b, 1995a, 1995b; Vaughan and Nordenstam 1991 ). Our paper contributes to this literature by describing the key demographic characteristics, pesticide risk perceptions, levels of risk training and knowledge, and risk protection behaviors of a largely unstudied community of migrant farmworkers in the geographically unique region of lowcountry South Carolina. It is our hope that identification of the demographic characteristics, such as the socioeconomic status, of this population will aid policy makers and agricultural outreach workers in both setting risk policy and creating risk abatement programs that achieve measurable outcomes. In addition, we contribute to the literature on risk perception by reporting our finding that there is no measurable connection between receipt of training and education and consequent protective behaviors among our sample of migrant farmworkers. We begin the paper with a history of pesticide use in the United States, an examination of pesticide risks with a focus on migrant farmworkers, and a summary of the current subset of environmental risk literature on farmworker risk perceptions and behaviors. In the remainder of the paper we describe the geographic, agricultural, and occupational context of our two cases, present an analysis of our findings, and discuss the implications of our results.

Pesticides and Occupational Risks for Migrant Farmworkers

Advancements in science and technology, most notably the development and use of many agricultural chemicals, massively changed the character of US agriculture in the middle and later half of the 20th century. Pesticide use has grown substantially since the 1930s and continues to grow at a steady rate. Pesticide utilization mushroomed from onehalf billion pounds in the 1930s to 1.5 billion pounds in the 1970s (Aspelin 2003). Homeowners apply almost 10 times more pesticide per hectare than farmers, but at least 60 percent of all pesticide products are applied to agricultural lands (Abrams, Hogan, and Maibach 1991 ; Bormann, Balmori, and Geballe 1993; Kolpin et al.

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