Pesticide Use and Safety Training in Mexico: The Experience of Frameworkers Employed in North Carolina
Arcury, Thomas A., Quandt, Sara A., Rao, Pamela, Russell, Gregory B., Human Organization
Migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States are now overwhelmingly immigrants from Mexico. Pesticide exposure among these farmworkers is a major occupational health concern; however, little research has considered the agricultural pesticide use and safety experiences of these workers in their communities of origin. This analysis uses survey data collected by the PACE project to delineate the farming and pesticide use experiences of Mexican-born farmworkers in North Carolina. Over 80 percent of the 277 Mexican-born farmworkers had done agricultural work in Mexico, including work on their own farms (93%) and as hired farm labor (35%). Almost two-thirds of those farmworkers with farming experience had used pesticides, but only about one-third of those who used pesticides had received pesticide safety training or information. Most of those who used pesticides had used some form of safety equipment. Those who had worked as hired farm labor in Mexico were more likely to have used pesticides and safety equipment, and to have received safety training and information. Those who spoke an indigenous language at home rather than Spanish were less likely to have used pesticides and to have received safety training and information. These results demonstrate that farmworkers coming to the U.S. from Mexico arrive with a variety of experiences with pesticide usage and pesticide safety training. Such experiences form the framework within which farmworkers understand the relationship of pesticide usage to human health. It is important for occupational health and safety programs directed to farmworkers in the U.S. to consider the experiences these workers bring from their communities of origin.
Key words: migrant farmworkers, pesticide safety, agriculture, community-based research, Latinos, North Carolina
Pesticide exposure among migrant and seasonal farmworkers is a major occupational health concern in the United States (Arcury and Quandt 1998; Moses 1989; Moses et al. 1993). In response to these concerns, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has implemented the Worker Protection Standard for farmworker pesticide safety training (U.S.-EPA 1992), and the states have implemented specific field sanitation requirements for all persons who employ agricultural workers (for example, North Carolina Department of Labor 1995).
Most of the migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the U.S. are from Latin American countries, specifically Mexico (Mehta et al. 2000). Transnational agricultural labor in the U.S. has been considered in terms of its effects on immigration policy and law enforcement for undocumented immigrant workers (Hahamovitch 1997; Mitchell 1996), and in terms of the effects immigrants have on the communities in which they reside (Cravey 1997; Horowitz and Miller 1999). Research has not examined how the experiences these transnational workers bring with them from their communities of origin affect their adaptation to the work and safety milieu of the U.S. farms on which they work. The transnational character of agricultural workers is important for the occupational health and health education of these workers. These workers come to the U.S. with experiences, knowledge, and beliefs about occupational safety that must be considered in occupational safety requirements and education. In particular, many farmworkers may have used and been exposed to agricultural pesticides before immigrating to the U.S. (Hunt et al. 1999). In addition to the possibility of having experienced the effects of pesticide poisoning (TinocoOjanguren and Halperin 1998), these workers may have established work behaviors and belief systems that affect their safety behaviors on U.S. farms and the type and content of safety education that they need (Hunt et al. 1999; Quandt et al. 1998).
While the potential health effects of pesticide exposure among farmworkers are significant (Arcury and Quandt 1998; Moses et al. 1993), and the work patterns of these workers in their countries of origin may affect their safety behaviors and attitudes toward safety education in the U. …