Washington State Suspends Pesticide
September 16, 1993
On August 31st of this year, the pesticide Phosdrin (commonly
called mevinphos) used to control aphids on apple and pear
orchards, was suspended for four months in the state of
Washington. The suspension came as the direct result of the
poisoning of 17 apple orchard workers from eastern Washington
between July 19th and August 31. The United Farm Workers (UFW)
declared the suspension a turning point for the rights of all
farm workers. Julio Romero, a Washington UFW official stated,
"We consider this suspension a major victory for farm workers in
this state. This is the first time I can recall that a pesticide
was removed because of its harmful effect on farm workers rather
than on consumers." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
officials stated that they were concerned enough about the
potential harm to farm workers to consider banning it nationwide,
perhaps as early as next year.
The 17 pesticide mixer/loaders and farm workers who were poisoned
by Phosdrin required immediate medical attention, and several
were hospitalized. Mevinphos, known to be highly toxic, is
easily absorbed through the skin. The chemical works on the
victim's nervous system, and symptoms include headaches, nausea
and dizziness. Prolonged exposure can lead to involuntary muscle
movements, lack of coordination, weakness, salivation, diarrhea,
and vomiting. To date, most of the farm workers have returned to
work, but at least three others continue to suffer from adverse
effects of the poisoning.
There have been other incidents of poisonings during the 40 years
that Phosdrin has been in use. In 1989, more than seventy-five
field workers in Florida were poisoned when they were sent back
into the fields too soon after pesticide application. At least 2
farm workers also died in California in the early 1970's from
Prior to this growing season, Phosdrin was not widely used in
Washington. Growers had used another "less-toxic" pesticide,
Apamidon, trade name for phosphamidon. This product was voluntary
withdrawn in 1991 when its manufacturers chose not to comply with
costly federal rules governing pesticide certification. However,
unseasonably cooler temperatures of this past growing season have
escalated the aphid infestation in central Washington. Many
growers maintained that they had no choice but to use the more
toxic Phosdrin or lose their crops to the aphids.
EPA News Release, August 18, 1993.
The Seattle Times, August 21, 1993.
Seattle Post Intelligencer, August 31, 1993.
Washington State Department of Agriculture, Pesticide Management
Division, Olympia Office: Cliff Weed, P.O. Box 42589, Olympia, WA
98504, Phone: (206) 902-2040.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Rick Parkin, EPA/Seattle,
Phone: (206) 553-8574.
For least-toxic alternatives to aphid control, contact:
Bio-Integral Resource Center, P.O. Box 7414, Berkeley, CA 94521,
Phone: (510) 524-2567, FAX: (510) 524-1758 or contact your local
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