(EDITOR’S NOTE: California state regulators claim that certain pesticides – like methyl iodide, which was recently approved for agricultural use on crops such as strawberries - can be used safely, while many of the state’s environmental and health groups say that pesticide use in farming is fundamentally harmful to humans. Now, the results of a groundbreaking 12-year study by researchers at UC Berkeley and community medical centers in the Salinas Valley are shedding new light on the actual impact of pesticide exposure on farm workers and their families. This story, reported by NAM contributor Poornima Weerasekara, was made possible by an environmental health-reporting grant from New America Media, sponsored by the California Wellness Foundation.)
SALINAS, Calif. -- Endless rows of lettuce, celery and broccoli, covered by silver plastic sheets, surround the Natividad Medical Center, a community clinic located in the heart of this agricultural town, often called the salad bowl of America.
At about 10:30 a.m., Salinas Valley resident Marie, a Mexican-American farm worker who didn’t want to give her real name because she is participating in a research study, troops into one of the center’s research labs housed in an old trailer with her two children.
She has brought her 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter in for their routine blood and urine sampling. The research station is littered with toys, kids DVDs and various puzzles and activities. While her daughter grabs some crayons and a coloring book, Helen Aguirre, a research worker, gently prods Marie’s son onto a scale to record his weight.
Marie’s children are among 300 from Salinas participating in a groundbreaking study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that tracks the health of children whose mothers were exposed to pesticides while pregnant. The 12-year study is being carried out by the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS), a collaboration between UC Berkeley, the Natividad Medical Center, Clinica de Salud Del Valle de Salinas and other community organizations.
“I took part in this study from the time I was pregnant because I wanted to learn more about how pesticides affect my health and my kids’ health,” said Marie, who let researchers be by her hospital bed when she gave birth to her son, to collect samples of the umbilical cord blood.
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