A coalition of environmental groups handed out apples and oranges with labels that read “Chlorpyrifos; Protected by Pruitt,” during the Environmental Council of States’ spring meeting on April 7, calling attention to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rejection of a petition to ban the use of Chlorpyrifos, an ingredient in pesticides. Photo: Amanda J. Mason/Greenpeace USA On Cinco de Mayo, 2017 there was pesticide drift that stopped farmworkers from harvesting southwest of Bakersfield in Kern County. The workers were in the process of harvesting cabbage when they began to get sick.

According to a local television news report, the pesticide odor came in from a mandarin orchard west of a cabbage field that was sprayed the night previous with Vulcan, an organophosphate-based chemical that is “land applied.” At least 12 people reported symptoms of vomiting and nausea, and one person fainted. In the end, more than 50 farm workers were exposed. This is just one example of what happens in many farming communities. The dangers are real.

The most shocking and sad part is the active ingredient in the insecticide the workers were exposed to is Chlorpyrifos, which was slated to be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama administration. However, in March that ban was canceled. The EPA said there wasn’t enough solid evidence. Chlorpyrifos is reported to cause severe neurotoxic symptoms in humans if touched, inhaled, or eaten.

Farmworker Justice. Screenprint by Mazatl

For more than 15 years, it was banned for residential use, but it can still be used in agriculture. This has to stop.

Many people do not realize that people who are exposed to pesticides working in agricultural fields are at a higher risk of getting cancer. This is one of the reasons why I chose to participate in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Man & Woman of the Year” competition, which helps to raise awareness and funding for blood cancer research.

As a candidate, I will compete against other regional candidates for the regional title; the winner will be the person who raises the most money.

This is an opportunity for me to help give voice and raise awareness around the dangers that all farmworkers face and to help put an end to the cancers that are shortening the lives of the hard-working people who put food on our tables.

It’s a cause that hits home for me. In 2002, my father, Sebastian Sanchez, who worked in the Salinas Valley agricultural fields, passed away due to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  

As a former farmworker who also worked in the Salinas Valley agricultural fields, I have firsthand experience how farmworkers were, and are still, impacted by pesticides. I remember one day when I and other workers were sprayed while working in the fields. I thought it was starting to rain, but I looked up to see a small plane overhead spraying pesticides.

I will always fight for a worthwhile cause which doesn’t have a voice.  In essence, I am a farmworker in spirit. I miss my father so much. He fought so hard to beat non-Hodgkin lymphoma. When the opportunity arose with LLS, I said, “Yes, I’ll do it for my father, and for all the farmworkers who work so hard, risk their lives and feed our country and the world.”

The agricultural community, farmworker community, the Latino community, our community, needs your help. I’m raising funds to find a cure for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Our goal is to raise as much awareness and funds as possible by June 3, 2017; the cost of funding a research lab for one year and hope that you can please make a tax-deductible donation of whatever you can: www.mwoy.org/pages/gba/bayarea17/vsanchezde

Por Vida Juntos We Can Beat Cancer

Victoria Sanchez De Alba is a Bay Area communications consultant. Her work on raising awareness of the dangers of pesticides to farmworkers has earned her a nomination for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “San Francisco Woman of the Year” award.