The Use of Pesticides in New Mexico

Picking red chile.For years, Southern New Mexico has been the leading chile producer in the nation, with production of more than 30,000 acres and a production value greater than $70,000,000 each year. Increasingly, counties near El Paso are producing more chile to meet the demand of the national "Picante Sauce" market, which has exceeded the market for catsup.

Since the late eighties the New Mexico chile farmers have been attempting to stop a crop disease called "pepper weevil." Apparently the farmers and the USDA have lost control of this crop disease. According to the farmers, "the disease is spread by insects that move from plant to plant and causes leaves to curl and dry, until the plant is too weak to produce chile." In an attempt to stop the spread of this disease, chile farmers have been using more and more toxic chemicals.

bug.The chile industry utilizes many highly toxic pesticides, including Methomyl, Endosulfan, ethyl parathion, Mevinphos, acephate and chlorothalonil. These pesticides are acute toxic, and some are considered probable causes of birth defects, cancer, and chronic neurological defects. Thus, while the chile industry adds much to the economy of the region, the workers on whom the economy depends on, labor under terrible conditions for minimum wages while being exposed to highly toxic chemicals.

In 1992 the U.S. General Accounting Office issued a report estimating that as many as 300,000 farmworkers are poisoned by pesticides each year. Studies in Texas, Washington and Florida indicate that 40% of all farmworkers have been sprayed directly or by pesticide drift. Other studies demonstrate that fewer than 10% of farmworkers know the symptoms of pesticide poisoning, understand the concept of pesticide entry interval, or have received any training on how to protect themselves from pesticides.

Historically, farmworkers have been excluded from the right to know the names of the chemicals they work with or to be trained on how to protect themselves. Thus, farmworkers were the only occupational group excluded from the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard. Finally, in August 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, which requires that all farmworkers receive basic training on the hazards of pesticides, how to protect themselves, and have easy access to application information about specific pesticides which they might work with.

The present challenge is to develop means in order to reach farmworkers and train them in effective manners so they can recognize the dangers of the pesticides they come into contact with, take measures to protect themselves, exercise their rights under the law, and work together to resolve problems when they are identified.

Danger!But pesticides do not only affect farm workers, or human beings.

Pesticides also harm our land and our water. According to a study by the GAO, "By 1988, monitoring studies had detected a total of 46 pesticides present in groundwater as a result of formal agriculture use." This is a tragedy, because as the same report points out: "40 per cent of the U.S. population depends on groundwater for its drinking water; in rural areas this percentage exceeds 90..."

The Río Grande river (or Río Bravo) passes through Doña Ana County, New Mexico, the leading chile producer. Just imagine the contamination created by the chile producers. This problem is serious and deserves our attention in view of the indifference expressed by the many Made-by-NAFTA environmental agencies.

The Border Agricultural Workers Project is working very hard to deal with this serious problem. If you would like to know more about our efforts and what you can do to help, please contact us.

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