SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — The Farm Worker Health Act, Assembly Bill 1963, authored by Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, successfully passed the State Assembly yesterday.

“Farm workers, when on the job, are regularly exposed to dangerous pesticides that could cause birth defects, non-hodgkins lymphoma, leukemia and other life threatening diseases,” said Assemblymember Nava. “It is critical that we provide this vital workforce with the best possible protections from chemicals that adversely affect their health.”

The measure, cosponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, the California Health Officers Association, and Pesticide Action Network of North America, will reduce pesticide poisoning in California by streamlining the tracking of pesticide usage and worker pesticide exposure by state officials.

“As a member of a farm worker family, I hope that this measure gets passed. Mr. Nava’s legislation will provide vital protections for me, my family and my colleagues who work everyday bringing food to the tables of Californians,” said Luis Medellin, a member of a farm worker family. “We are afraid that we are exposed to unsafe levels of pesticides, and this measure will help make sure that we are all protected.”

As part of their jobs, farm workers in California load, mix, and apply hazardous pesticide chemicals, including organophosphates and carbamates. These pesticides work by inhibiting a nerve enzyme called cholinesterase (ChE), which is essential to maintaining normal nerve function.

Symptoms of ChE depression include: impaired reproduction; an increased risk of spontaneous abortion and congenital defects resulting in fetal death and altered birth parameters such as low birth weight and birth length; a weakened immune system; an increased risk of non-hodgkins lymphoma and leukemia; increased incidence of asthma; nerve damage; and neurotoxilogically related death.

Approximately 5 million pounds of these pesticides were applied in California in 2008.

According to a regulation enacted in 1974, employers who require workers to apply these pesticides must test workers’ ChE levels to ensure that workers’ health is not endangered. Under current law, there is no requirement for test results to be delivered to any state agency responsible for worker health. Therefore, we have no idea if the regulation is working or whether workers are actually being protected.

AB 1963 is a simple fix to an outdated law – it requires electronic reporting of lab results to relevant state agencies that can protect workers and prevent pesticide poisonings and it requires an analysis of the current program to ensure worker protection.

“The testing program is over 30 years old; it’s high time to make a modest adjustment so that state authorities can determine if the program is protecting farm workers from easily preventable pesticide exposure, or not,” said Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network of North America. “Reporting test results is both feasible and necessary for the protection of thousands of workers who routinely handle highly hazardous neurotoxins.”

Electronic reporting will enable authorities, including the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, to review and implement necessary safety precautions in work places with high exposure levels. Additionally, electronic reporting can provide increased medical supervision of workers.

AB 1963 will lead to improvements in workplace safety and reduce farm worker exposure to harmful pesticides.

The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.