|Implemented in this survey?|
The goal of the Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act is to minimize impact of pesticide drift on individuals in agricultural areas. It authorizes the state to recover costs from those responsible for drift that injures bystanders, ensures that local agencies that respond to cases of pesticide drift have emergency response plans, and discourages use of pesticides that easily drift. Its impact is conditional on the ability of public agencies to detect and respond to pesticide drift accidents.
Each year, there are over a million pesticide applications in the agricultural areas of California that spray close to 170 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides. Extensive federal and state
regulations are in place to control the spraying of pesticides, particularly aerial applications. Although infrequent, pesticides and herbicides occasionally drift from their intended application
site and can unintentionally cause illnesses for both fieldworkers and the residents in the area of the farms. In 2002, 39 pesticide drift episodes sickened a reported 478 people. Exposed individuals
experience symptoms ranging from shortness of breath and headaches to vomiting and loss of consciousness in the worst-case scenarios.
Although the state can fine the offending farmer or spray company when an incident of pesticide drift occurs, enforcement of these fines is largely considered weak and none of these fines are collected to cover the medical costs of exposed individuals. If working at the time of exposure, fieldworkers are legally protected under workers' compensation laws. However for people who are near the fields in times of pesticide drifts, like off-duty farmworkers and their families who live in nearby towns, no protective or compensatory measures were in place prior to the Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act. A population without health insurance, these individuals were forced to bear the burden of medical costs and often turned to cash-strapped public clinics for care. With half of the 800,000 California farmworkers earning less than $10,000 per year in 1998 and only 32% holding health insurance, the economic hardship of these medical costs is clear.
With growing populations in the rural towns and suburban sprawl, increasing numbers of people are at risk for pesticide-drift exposure and treatment costs are expected to grow. Multiple large-scale accidental exposures have occurred, resulting in hundreds of people in a town showing symptoms of pesticide poisoning. In addition to demonstrating the increasing health and economic impact of pesticide drift, these incidents have also exposed a gaping lack of capacity of emergency personnel to effectively manage large-scale pesticide drift accidents.
The Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act, introduced by Senator Florez, was formulated with farmworker advocate groups to minimize the impact of pesticide drift on individuals living and working in agricultural areas. First, the legislation authorizes the state to recover medical costs for acute, uncompensated injuries from companies, farmers or others responsible for drift that injures bystanders. It also ensures that local agencies that respond to cases of pesticide drift have emergency response plans in place. Lastly, the bill discourages use of pesticides that easily drift, creating an additional surcharge on farm chemicals based on their propensity to drift off the targeted crop. Although assumed sustainable because it is funded primarily through fines and taxes, the long-term impact of this act is conditional on the ability of state and local agencies to detect and respond to pesticide drift accidents.
Independent of national and state health goals, this policy is aiming to fill in the coverage gaps that have formed under the complex of existing pesticide and workers-compensation laws. To
minimize health risks for fieldworkers, multiple federal and state laws stipulate specific application procedures for pesticides according to their propensity to drift off target and to remain on the
target crops once sprayed. Fines are imposed upon offending spray companies and farms if these protective procedures are not followed. Workers compensation is available only for victims who are
working in the fields of the responsible farm at the time of a drift incident. Although providing substantial preventative protection, these laws stopped short of defining a management plan and a
medical liability framework if a drift event did occur.
Throughout the 1990s, agricultural worker advocacy groups unsuccessfully pushed for improvements in pesticide drift management and medical coverage at the local and state level.
Substantial political inertia was evident and was likely related to the fact that half of the agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants. As population growth has put more residents in close proximity to farming operations, however, the impacts of pesticide drift have received greater political attention. Between 2000 and 2003, there were three large-scale incidents of pesticide drift in which hundreds of people in entire towns required treatment for drift-related symptoms. In 2002, this bill was formulated and submitted to the legislature in 2003.
The economic strain that these events placed on victims and local health agencies has been growing over the past decade. With half of the 800,000 California farmworkers earning less than $10,000 per year in 1998 and only 32% holding health insurance, the economic hardship of these medical costs is substantial. Victims rarely pursued civil litigation to recoup medical costs because many feared losing their jobs or exposing their undocumented immigration status. Farmers, facing rising costs from rising fuel prices, workers compensation insurance, and increasing foreign competition, are wary of any additional liability insurance costs.
|Implemented in this survey?|
The Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act is aiming to minimize the impact that spray drift has on rural populations by discouraging the use of pesticides that drift through targeted taxation,
improving emergency responses to pesticide drift, and providing medical compensation to individuals affected by pesticide drift. This is the first measure of its kind in the country.
Since pesticide spraying began in California over 100 years ago, pesticide drift has been part of life for farmworkers across the state. An average of 250 cases of illnesses related to pesticide drift are reported each year in California, a number that farmworker advocates say represent only a fraction of actual chemical-related illnesses. The underreporting occurs, they say, because farmworkers are often afraid of losing their jobs and hold little trust for government agencies.
Throughout the 1990s, agricultural worker advocacy groups unsuccessfully pushed for improvements in pesticide drift management and medical coverage at the local and state level. The number of farmworkers and their families that were sickened by spray drift each year was growing and the lack of sprayer liability was greatly straining the finances of uninsured families and the cash-strapped rural health system. As farming towns expanded closer to agricultural land due to population growth, large-scale incidents of pesticide drift, in which entire towns were affected, began to occur at the end of the 1990s.
The large-scale incidents highlighted the need for improved drift emergency response systems. The existing response system was heavily criticized for its tremendous inconsistency in the way in which emergency personnel responded to these drifts. During one incident, for example, some residents were told to leave their homes, others were told to stay inside, and others were taken to a football field where they were undressed and hosed down publicly. Following such incidents, local officials, farmworkers, advocacy groups, health clinics, and even farm owners called for reforms.
It was these large-scale incidents of pesticide drift and the rapid growth of residential subdivisions towards agricultural land that finally brought the need for reform to the attention of politicians. Senator Florez (D) developed the Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act with farmworker advocates and introduced the bill to the legislature in 2003. As originally designed, the bill set forth a series of provisions to hold the sprayer liable for medical costs due to drift exposures, improve the emergency response systems, and discourage use of pesticides that have a propensity to drift. With a Democratic-controlled legislature, this bill faced little resistance in the legislature once amended.
The California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation sponsored the original bill with Senator Florez. They overwhelmingly support all features of the measure to protect the 800,000 farmworkers and their families, although expressed concern that the final bill falls short. They are particularly concerned about the lack of coverage for people exposed to pesticide drift while at work and the lack of requirement that emergency response personnel receive special training.
As the agency in charge of implementing this Act, the DPR supported the improvements in emergency services and follow-up medical care for pesticide exposure victims. According to state officials, the agency initially was enthusiastic about finding ways to make the bill work, but its behind-the-scenes response has cooled as the bill progressed through the legislature.
Although these groups agreed with the need to improve the emergency response to chemical drift incidents, they opposed the Act out of fear that the cost of the program will grow too high. Fourteen agriculture groups - from the California Farm Bureau Federation to the Wine Institute - challenged specifics of the bill, particularly the extra charge on pesticides and the likely rise in liability insurance costs. The growers are also afraid the system will be open to fraud and that the voluntary reimbursement for medical bills would open them up to future litigation.
Physicians and health staff in the community health clinics where farmworkers receive care are also greatly supportive of the bill. Having covered the costs of many pesticide drift poisonings, clinics stand to save substantial amounts of money once the offending companies cover the medical costs.
Introduced into the legislature in 2003 reflecting the interests of the farmworker advocates, the bill was amended in response to concerns from the agricultural industry and to budgetary concerns.
No other stakeholders were involved in the negotiation process. Although some key provisions were lost for both parties in the negotiation process, the fundamental components of medical compensation
by the offending sprayer, improved emergency response, and drift pesticide taxations emerged relatively intact. The resulting measure still gives people who are exposed to pesticides recourse where
they had none before. The Governor signed the final measure into law in September 2004.
The improved emergency response component was weakened the most during the legislative process due to cost considerations. The requirement for specialized training for emergency personnel was dropped and replaced with a requirement for the development of local emergency plans. The requirement that each county post its record of pesticide applications online to facilitate quick emergency personnel consultation was also stripped away. Additionally, the agricultural industry called for a specification that applicators who voluntarily provide reimbursement for medical bills can not have that action used against them in future litigation. Finally, coverage for people exposed to pesticide drift while at work was removed due to the applicability of workers compensation.
The Department of Pesticide Regulation is coordinating the adoption process with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, several agricultural industry groups, and multiple local
agencies. The funds to cover the medical costs and increased emergency response are set to come from fines paid by companies when they are caught drifting. The monitoring and enforcement of pesticide
drifts however, is dependent on existing monitoring systems, which, in turn, are reliant on state funds. State budget cuts have severely limited the capacity of many local agencies to conduct
pesticide monitoring and enforcement activities. Thus, it is not clear that drifts will be able to be investigated in a prompt manner (and thus charge the faulty company with a fine to fund the
system). Additionally, nearly $300,000 is needed to begin the implementation of the response act.
There is concern that a state-managed compensation approach may not be appropriate for populations of people who do not trust government programs. If not implemented carefully, pesticide drift victims may not take advantage of the compensation option and may continue to pay the costs themselves or put the cost on the public system. If implemented well, the quality of care that victims receive will substantially improve.
Additionally, local rural governments may not have the capacity to devise their own technically appropriate emergency response plans. Careful implementation of this component is also necessary to ensure the development of effective emergency plans and avoid placing unrealistic expectations on local agencies.
Finally, the taxation provision also needs careful attention. The toxicity of alternative pesticides needs to be considered when setting the tax on drift-prone pesticides. If a more toxic non-drift pesticide is made cheaper than the drift-prone pesticide and replaces the drift-prone pesticide, the actual risk of health impacts for fieldworkers and consumers increases.
No formal mechanism for monitoring or evaluation of this program has been proposed to date. An extensive monitoring program for pesticide-related illnesses and pesticide drift incidents, however, is in place and will undoubtedly be utilized to evaluate the Act.
As proposed, the Pesticide Exposure Response Act will likely have a positive impact on rural communities in California. Bystanders will have legal recourse when accidentally sprayed in a pesticide
drift and pesticides that drift will be discouraged from use. Rural health clinics will likely experience lower costs and will ideally be able to afford to provide better care. Undocumented
immigrants, uninsured, workers, and family members are all covered under this law.
The long-term impact of this Act, however, is highly contingent on careful implementation. Drift victims, particularly undocumented immigrants, may not engage in the system because of apprehension of government programs. Also, local governments may have limited capacity to develop emergency response plans without adequate training. Finally, the taxing of drift pesticides could result in the increased use of more toxic non-drift pesticides, putting fieldworkers at much greater health risk.
Impacts on the costs of liability insurance for farmers are also likely. If costs get too high, some farmers may cut health insurance to save.
Bugarin, A and Lopez, E. Farmworkers in California. (1998) California Research Bureau: http://www.library.ca.gov/crb/98/07/98007a.pdf
California State Senate. Pesticide Drift Exposure Bill Information: http://info.sen.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_391&sess=CUR&house=B&site=sen
Carol Colb, MPH, University of California, Berkeley; Carol Medlin, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, Institute for Global Health