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Case Study 7

Page history last edited by Natalie Hartman 14 years ago

 

Ag-Mart Pesticide Poisoning 

Ag-mart is a Tomato Growing Company With Headquarters in Florida and North Carolina

 


The Place:

Collier County, Florida and North Carolina

In 2004, three infants with severe congenital deformities were born to mothers who all worked for Ag-Mart tomato growers during pregnancy.  The women had worked in fields in Florida and had transferred to North Carolina Later in the year   All three mothers unknowingly worked in fields during Restricted Entry Intervals (REIs) for pesticides during days 14-59 of their pregnancies (the period of oganogenesis, when birth defects are most likely to occur).  In 2005 the Collier County Health Department and the North Carolina Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services began investigation on this case.

 


The Issue:

     In late 2004 and early 2005 three infants were born, all from women working for Ag-Mart, a tomato harvesting company with locations in Florida, North Carolina and New Jersey.  All three women worked at the fields in Florida and North Carolina during their pregnancies.  The infants were born less than eight weeks apart and each was born with severe congenital defects.  A number of different pesticides used by the company Ag-mart were thought to have caused major birth defects in babies carried by women who worked for Ag-mart and were exposed to the chemicals during their pregnancies. (Calvert et al. 2007).  In late 2005, the Collier County Health Department and the North Carolina Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services recognized these three cases and began investigation on the company of Ag-Mart.  It is every parent’s worst nightmare to bring a child into the world with life threatening, debilitating deformities.  This nightmare became a reality for the families of the three infants whose mothers were employed by Ag-Mart.  An article found in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives gave a detailed description of each pesticide poisoning case. In the first case, the woman gave birth to an infant with tetramelia (the absence of all four limbs).  The infant also had spinal and lung deformities. In the second case, the woman gave birth to an infant with Pierre Robin Syndrome – which is characterized by an abnormally small lower jaw (micrognathia), and a high arched palette. The third woman gave birth to an infant with several severe malformations including a cleft lip and palette, an imperforate anus, a solitary kidney, displastic low set ears, several vertebral anomalies, and ambiguous genitalia. The infant from case three died three days after birth.

     All three women unknowingly worked in fields at Ag-Mart under violation of the restricted entry interval (REI).  After pesticides are sprayed on crops, workers must wait a certain amount of days before working in the fields and handling the crops.  The REI depends on what specific pesticides have been sprayed on the crops.  At Ag-Mart, where some of the chemicals used in pesticides have been shown to have teratogenic effects when tested on animals, the REI for the tomato crops is 4 days.   All three women said they had worked on fields the same day they had been sprayed on more than one occasion.  One woman even admitted to working on a field while it was being sprayed with pesticides. (Calvert et al. 2007)

     A whole slew of different chemicals were found to be present in the pesticides that were used by Ag-Mart.  Lab tests have proven a few of the chemicals found in the pesticides to be teratogenic in animals.  Records from Ag-Mart show that these women were scheduled to work in fields when some of these teratogenic were present in the fields.  In cases one and two, both women were recorded to have been potentially exposed to a pesticide called Mancozeb.  This pesticide has caused limb reduction defects, cleft palate, and brachygnathia (uneven alignment of the upper and lower jaw) in animals that it was tested on.  In case one, the infant was born with the absence of arms and legs, which could potentially be a direct effect of her exposure to Mancozeb pesticide during her pregnancy.  The mothers in cases two and three were recorded to have both been potentially exposed to Methamidophos, a pesticide that has caused the development of paddle shaped limbs, anotia (the absence of an ear), and microphthalmia (abnormally small eyes) in animals that it was tested on.  The women from cases two and three were also potentially exposed to Abamectin and Methylpyrrolidone, two pesticides that have caused cleft palates in the animals that they were tested on.  Comparisons of the teratogenic effects of these pesticides and the severe birth defects that were manifested in the three infants allow for many parallels to be made. (Calvert et al. 2007)

     While some of the birth defects in the infants of the three women may have been caused by late prenatal care (since all three women admitted to having little or no prenatal care), the bulk of the defects were caused by direct exposure to the chemicals on the fields of Ag-Mart. Ag-mart should have been more prudent in making sure employees were not working in fields during the restricted entry intervals for the pesticides.  The company should have also educated all of its employees about the health risks that come with being exposed to the harmful chemicals present in many pesticides.  This is definitely one of the more heartbreaking cases of environmental injustice to read about.  If Ag-Mart was a little less careless this tragedy could have easily been prevented. Hopefully we as a society can learn from this and other cases of environmental injustice and we can work to decrease the instances of these cases.  Fortunately, after the Collier County Health Department and the North Carolina Department of Agricultural and consumer services began investigating these three cases, one trial has occurred on behalf of the infant in case one.  Extensive research could not determine if any trials have occurred on behalf of the infants in cases two and three. 

 


The Stakeholders:

 

 

  • Plaintiffs:
    • Case 1: Carlos Candelario - Born on December 17, 2004 with spinal and lung deformalities and no arms and legs to parents Francisca Herrera and Abraham Candelario.  Mother, Francisca, worked in fields for AgMart tomato growers during her pregnancy with Carlos.
    • Case 2: Jesus Meseda - On February 4, 2005, Jesus Meseda was born with Pierre Robin's syndrome. This syndrome results in a small jaw, retration of the tongue, and airway obstruction. He was born to Sostenes Meceda. She worked in the fields for AgMart tomato growers during her pregnancy.
    • Case 3: Violeta Meza - Born on February 6, 2005, Violeta Meza was born without a nose, ear, and visible sex organs. She died three days later. She was born to Maria Mesa who also worked in the fields for AgMart during her pregnancy.

 

 

  • Defendants:
    • Ag-Mart -  Commonly known as Santa Sweets, Ag-mart is a tomato harvesting company that grows tomatoes in North Carolina, Florida, and New Jersey. A crew of 500 migrant workers is employed to stake, plant and pick these crops. Workers are housed, transported and employed by Ag-Mart contractors. Workers are mostly poor from Mexican states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guatemala.

 

 

 

Stakeholder 1 - Carlos Candelario

The mother was 19 when she had Carlos. He was born with no limbs and a small section of bone present in the upper left extremity. No use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs is noted in the family history in the medical records. During prenatal screening, male chromosome analysis came back normal (46, XY). The mother is reported to have taken prenatal vitamins and had a balanced diet during her pregnancy. The mother and father were both fieldworkers for Ag-Mart and did experience direct spray and drift from pesticides while working for Ag-Mart. The mother reported that there were no warnings (verbal or posted) to disable the workers from entering the field due to spraying. The mother says that she was not provided with gloves, coveralls or protective equipment while working for Ag-Mart.

 

Stakeholder 2 - Jesus Meseda

The mother worked first at Ag-Mart in Florida for four months before transferring to work in North Carolina at another Ag-Mart. Her song was born with an underdeveloped jaw, a high arched palate, and other minor abnormalities. It was diagnosed as Pierre Robin Syndrome. The father of Jesus was also diagnosed with micrognathia, which is a condition where the jaw is undersized. The mother is also reported to have had a previous pregnancy that ended in a stillbirth. The mother was 30 at the time of the child’s birth. The woman is reported to have taken prenatal vitamins and had a balanced diet. The parents both worked as Ag-Mart field workers during the time of the pregnancy. The women reported that her or her husband had never personally mixed or applied pesticides. She also said that she wore long pants, a long sleeved shirt and gloves that she personally purchased. She was never provided with personal protective equipment. She never reported to have seen notifications to not enter the field after spraying. Although, she did say that the crewleader would tell her when she could re-enter after pesticides had been applied. The woman has four children and had on pregnancy that ended in stillbirth. The stillbirth pregnancy showed no obvious birth defects during prenatal testing. 

 

Stakeholder 3 - Violeta Meza 

The mother worked in the fields in Florida while she was pregnant. She was reported to work for five days in the fields in situations when exposure to pesticide residues was above levels that health-protective is likely. The mother gave birth to Violeta who suffered from multiple birth defects; some defects were even reported in lab animals after they were exposed to pesticides. Death occurred 3 days after birth. The mother had two previous pregnancies, one ending miscarriage of a malformed fetus while the second pregnancy ended in a normal child. The mother reports that she was never told not to enter a field that had been sprayed with pesticides.

 

 


Resolutions and Consequences:

     There were multiple outcomes that this specific case produced.  Carlos Candelario will receive health care provided by funds that Ag-Mart will be responsible to supply for the rest of his life.  Unfortunatley Jesus Meseda, who was diagnosed with Pierre Robins Syndrome, was never financially accomidated by Ag-Mart because there was not enough evidence directly linking his birth defects to his mother's exposure to toxic pesticides.  Along with Jesus, Violeta Meza was too never aided financially by the outcome of the Ag-Mart case as she died just a few short months after her birth.  These children will never be able to live the lives of healthy children due to choices their parents faced to make without proper knowledge concerning the consequences.

     After Ag-Mart had violated many regulations, including the unsuccessful training of their employees on how to use pesticides and being held responsible for one child's severe birth defects (costing Ag-Mart millions of dollars in fines), some changes have been made to prevent situations like this in the future.  Compliance inspectors who made sure Ag-Mart was following all regulations were very relaxed with rules and very rarely fined Ag-Mart for pesticide violations prior to the cases involving the three infants with birth defects.  Compliance inspectors are now expected to thoroughly evaluate the use of pesticides and exposure at various sites.  Farm officials have also added about ten more inspectors to each Ag-Mart farm and have doubled the amount of inspections that occur.  Mandatory education that workers must receive prior to spraying or working around pesticides is now in place. Ag-Mart has also said that they have since stopped using five of the pesticides that they previously used due to adverse health effects experienced by lab animals. 

     These steps have gone into strengthening the Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency. In this set of laws, employers are prohibited from spraying if it will expose workers to the pesticide. Restricted-entry intervals also must be specified to the workers who come in contact with the pesticides. Also, it is mandatory that protective equipment must be provided for all workers. The employers must also provide ways for the workers to become decontaminated by providing such amenities as water, soap, and clean towels. Also, all handlers and workers must be informed of the labeled hazards on the pesticides to know the risk of danger.

     State agencies and health providers have also been communicating in hopes to lessen and assess the use and exposure that workers are subject to over a period of time.  Although these adjustments have been made, the use of pesticides need to monitored more closely to prevent future devastation.  No matter what is done the consequences that the victims of this case have faced will never be forgotten.

 


Works Cited

 

AgMart Settles Birth Defect Case.  [2008 March 28].  [Internet].  Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog.  [cited 2008 Oct 20].  Available from: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/?p=315

 

AgMart Settles Pesticide Birth Defect Lawsuit. [2008 April 17].  [Internet].  NewsInferno.com.  [Cited 2008 Oct 18].  Available from: http://www.newsinferno.com/archives/2925

 

Calvert GM, Alarcon WA, Chelminski A, Crowley MS, Barrett R, Correa A, Higgins S, Leon HL, Correia J, Becker A, Allen RA, Evans E. 2007. Farm workers who gave birth to infants with birth defects closely grouped in time and place - Florida and North Carolina, 2004. Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives [Internet]. [cited 2008 Oct 20]; 115(5): 787-791. Available from: http://www.ehponline.org/members/2007/9647/9647.pdf (pdf file)

 

Chelminski, A, Higgins, S. Assessment of maternal occupational pesticide exposures during pregnancy and three children with birth defects: North Carolina, 2004. [2006 May 18]. Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services [Internet]. [cited 2008 Oct 20]. Available from: http://www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/oii/Agmartreleasereport.pdf (pdf file)

 

Collins K. Ag-Mart ties drug to birth defects. [2006 Apr 14]. The News & Observer [Internet]. [cited: 2008 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/health_science/pesticide_violations/story/428617.html 

 

Collins, K. Ag-Mart Workers Testify.  [2008 Sept 11].  The News & Observer [Internet].  [cited 2008 Oct 16].  Available from:  http://www.newsobserver.com/news/health_science/pesticide_violations/story/1214475.html (html file)

 

Collins, K. Grower Settles with Limbless Child.  [2008 Mar 25].  The News & Observer [Internet].  [cited 2008 Oct 20].  Available from: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/health_science/pesticide_violations/story/1012290.html (html file)

 

Collins, K. Pesticide Reforms Modest, Thrifty.  [2008 July 15].  The News & Observer [Internet].  [cited 2008 Oct 20].  Available from:  http://www.newsobserver.com/news/health_science/pesticide_violations/story/1141793.html (html file)

 

Evans C, Lantigua J, Stapleton C. Publix drops Ag-Mart tomatoes. [2005 Oct 22]. Palm Beach Post [Internet]. [cited: 2008 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.floridafarmers.org/news/articles/publixDrops.htm

 

Mandatory reporting rule. [2006 Apr 1]. Public Health in North Carolina [Internet]. [cited 2008 Oct 20]. Available from: http://www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/pest/pdf/Mandatory_reporting_rule.pdf (pdf file)

 

Lantigua J, Stapleton C. Risks of combined pesticides use uncertain. [2005 Mar 20]. Palm Beach Post [Internet]. [cited: 2008 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.smfws.com/art3202005b.htm

 

Pesticide Board vs AgMart.  [2008 Sept 11].  [Internet].  North Carolina Conservation Network.  [cited 2008 Oct 20].  Available from: http://www.ncconservationnetwork.org/mainblog/archive/2008/09/11/pesticide-board-vs-ag-mart

 

Schwind, K. Pesticides for Dinner. [2005 Nov 22]. Common Dreams [Internet]. [cited 2008 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1122-20.htm

 

Stapleton, C. Ag-Mart to pay for limbless child’s needs. [2008 Apr 17]. Palm Beach Post [Internet]. [cited: 2008 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/state/content/state/epaper/2008/04/17/w1a_CARLITOS_AGMART_0417.html

 

 Worker protection standard for agricultural pesticides. [2007 Oct 17]. Environmental Protection Agency [Internet]. [cited 2008 Oct 20]. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/twor.html

 

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