Friday, May 19, 2017

When You Can’t Take a Choke!

Out here on the West Coast, Bakersfield (Kern County) is farm country with a whole lot of oil wells. Part of that great California agricultural belt that has become the fruit and vegetable supplier to most of the rest of the United States. Agribusiness is huge out here, so if there are cheaper and more efficient methods to kill agricultural pests – as long as the government approves the relevant chemical treatments – the big farms are going to use them. That such chemicals have pretty clear track records of creating serious medical consequences is largely irrelevant, particularly if the victims are probably going to be mostly undocumented farm workers.
So when this little piece appeared on the local TV station (KCFD) Website (, May 5th), it really wasn’t big news: “More than 50 farm workers were exposed to a pesticide drift Friday morning [5/5] southwest of Bakersfield… The incident shut down harvesting operations after some of those workers complained of sudden illness.
“The workers were in the process of harvesting cabbage for Dan Andrews Farms in a field off Copus Road when they began to get sick… ‘We started getting an odor, pesticide odor, coming in from the mandarin orchards west of our field,’ said Efron Zavalza, Supervisor and Food Safety Specialist, Dan Andrews Farms… Zavalza said a Sun Pacific Farms orchard was sprayed Thursday [5/4] night with Vulcan, an organophosphate-based chemical that is land applied. 
“Health officials said it is highly toxic… ‘I'm not pointing fingers or saying it was done incorrectly.  it was just an unfortunate thing the way it was drifted.  The wind came and pushed everything east and you know we were caught in the path,’ Zavalza said… Twelve people reported symptoms of vomiting, nausea and one person fainted. 
“The Kern County Fire Department, Kern County Environmental Health and Hazmat immediately responded to the area and did a mass decontamination… One person was taken to the hospital… An additional twelve workers did not show signs of any symptoms…  However more than half of the farm workers left before medical aide arrived…  ‘Anybody that was exposed, that was here today, we encourage them to seek medical attention immediately.  Don't wait.  Particularly if you're suffering from any symptoms.  Whether it's nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seek medical attention immediately,’ said Michelle Corson, Public Relations Officer, Kern County Public Health… The active ingredient in the insecticide the workers were exposed is Chlorpyrifos.” Yup, those desperately sick undocumented workers just hightailed it out of there… ICE agents would probably have deported them from the local hospital.
The Obama administration banned the use of Chlorpyrifos, to be effective this past March. The Trump administration canceled that ban as one of those unnecessary “job killing” regulations that they vowed to eliminate. “The EPA said there wasn't enough solid evidence… Chlorpyrifos is reported to cause severe neurotoxic symptoms in humans if touched, inhaled, or eaten.
It has been banned for residential use for more than 15 years, but can still be used in agriculture… Chlorpyrifos is manufactured by the AgroSciences division of Dow Chemical Company… The EPA's decision delays any potential ban of the pesticide until its next review in 2022.”
The National Pesticide Information Center posted this litany of possible human medical damage from exposure to Chlorpyrifos:
  • Signs and symptoms typically develop within minutes to hours after an acute exposure to chlorpyrifos. Initial signs and symptoms include tearing of the eyes, runny nose, increased saliva and sweat production, nausea, dizziness and headache. Signs of progression include muscle twitching, weakness or tremors, lack of coordination, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and pupil constriction with blurred or darkened vision. Signs of severe toxicity include increased heart rate, unconsciousness, loss of control of the urine or bowels, convulsions, respiratory depression, and paralysis.
  • Psychiatric symptoms associated with acute exposure include anxiety, depression, memory loss, confusion, stupor, bizarre behavior, and restlessness.
  • Children may experience different signs and symptoms from exposure to chlorpyrifos than adults, and diagnosis of poisoning in general may be more difficult. Commonly reported signs and symptoms in poisonings with children include seizures, flaccid muscle weakness, pupil constriction, excess salivation, and mental status changes including lethargy and coma. Some of the typical symptoms seen in adults, such as decreased heart rate, muscle twitching, increased tear production, and sweating, are less common in children. [Developmental impairment can also result in lower brain growth and IQ test results.]
  • Single, high-dose exposures to organophosphates in humans can also result in intermediate syndrome. Signs and symptoms typically occur 24-96 hours after exposure. As in animals, the syndrome is characterized by the absence of muscarinic signs. Signs of toxicity result from the inhibition of nicotinic receptors. Signs observed in humans include reduced tendon reflexes, cranial nerve palsies, weakness in the facial, neck, proximal limb muscles, and partial respiratory paralysis.
  • Delayed neurological symptoms, beginning 1-4 weeks after exposure, may also result from an acute, high-dose exposure to OPs. As in animals, this prolonged delay in neurological symptoms is referred to as OPIDN and onset depends on the dose and route of exposure. Reports of OPIDN from exposure to chlorpyrifos are limited to acute, high-dose exposures where treatment with therapeutic agents was used to resolve acute cholinergic toxicity. In one case, a 42-year old man intentionally ingested chlorpyrifos in a suicide attempt, and in a second case, a 3-year-old boy accidentally ingested chlorpyrifos. It has been suggested that supralethal doses followed with antidotal therapy, rather than low-level, chronic exposures, would be necessary for chlorpyrifos to cause OPIDN in humans.
  • OPIDN typically affects the lower extremities and can cause cramping, muscle pain, weakness and paresthesia, which is described as numbness and tingling sensations. In more severe cases, musculoskeletal effects including depression of tendon reflexes in the arms, symmetrical wasting, flaccid weakness, and paralysis of distal muscles (most commonly the legs) have been reported. Signs and symptoms from OPIDN may persist from weeks to years.
Hey, sometimes a “job killer” can just be plain old “killer” without any other adjectival limitation. Yup, those nasty financial and environmental regulations are just getting in the way of big business’ making bigger profits… and we certainly need jobs much more than we need our health. Who needs that damned EPA anyway? Oh, The Donald is slowly disassembling that agency… not to worry.
I’m Peter Dekom, and it is very clear that ordinary people are not remotely a priority for our new executive branch of government, strongly supported by a Congress with equally hostile values toward “us.”

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