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

“Farm workers are regularly exposed to potentially harmful pesticides risking birth defects, non-hodgkins lymphoma, leukemia and other life threatening diseases while helping bring food to our tables,” 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 by state officials of pesticide usage and exposure.

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

As part of their job, 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 organophosphate and carbamate pesticides were applied in California in 2008.

According to regulations 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.

AB 1963 is a simple fix to an outdated law – it would require electronic reporting of lab results to relevant state agencies that can protect workers and prevent pesticide poisonings.

“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 allow authorities, including the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, to implement necessary safety precautions in work places with high exposure levels. These changes can include evaluating current safety precautions, changing handling practices, improving pesticide safety training, and general sanitation and decontamination practices. 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 Floor for consideration.