Study Showing Farm Workers at Higher Risk of Some Cancers Reignites Debate Over Farm Safety
Hispanic farm workers are at higher risk for certain types of cancer than other Hispanics in the state, according to a study of United Farm Workers union members appearing in the December issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. The Bakersfield Californian reports that the study by UFW researchers and the California Cancer Registry "renewed an ongoing debate" over whether people who work or live near agricultural fields that use chemicals on crops are more susceptible to cancer. In the study, researchers cross-referenced the names of more than 140,000 union members enrolled in either the union's health or pension plan with the registry, which records all cancer-related deaths in the state. The study found that the risk of breast, lung and prostate cancer was higher among the general Hispanic population than among UWF members. However, it found that Hispanic UFW workers were 59% more likely to develop leukemia and 69% more likely to develop stomach cancer than other Hispanics in the state. In addition, uterine cancers among females and brain cancers among both males and females also were more prevalent in Hispanics who had worked on farms. "This study validates the many other studies that have been done over the years, that there's a correlation between pesticides and the health of farm workers," Doug Blaylock, administrator of UFW's medical plan, who worked on the study, said.
The state's farmers, however, said there is no proven link between the chemicals and cancer. "It's been very difficult to prove that (cancer) comes from the farms. We don't foolishly or purposely cause people to get sick," Loron Hodge, executive director of the Kern County Farm Bureau, said. Hodge noted that an "array of regulations" exist to protect workers' health. He said the study was "part of an effort to push [UFW's] agenda" of increasing union membership. But Vianey Torres, a UFW organizer, said the union's only agenda is "to protect the health" of farm workers, most of whom lack health insurance and access to health care and may not be aware of potential hazards on the job (Garcia, Bakersfield Californian, 2/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.