ANNAPOLIS – The Senate backed a bill Thursday to report on and educate citizens about pesticides released into the environment and their effects on humans.
The 38-9 vote on Sen. Paul Pinsky’s, D-Prince George’s, bill comes during the same week the Centers for Disease Control released a study reporting that most Americans carry some amount of pesticides and other chemical pollutants in their bodies.
The bill could be critical in educating Maryland citizens about what kind of chemicals surround them and their possible effects, Pinsky said.
“We don’t have a central system of reporting on pesticide injuries,” he said. “Unless we know what the side effects are we’ll never have a handle on it.”
The concern is that pesticides are causing illnesses in humans. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency reported 10,000 to 20,000 pesticide-related illnesses in farm laborers in 1999 – a figure the agency has said may be underreported.
Health officials and advocates for farm laborers strongly supported the measure, which they say will help the 15,000 workers who harvest fruits and vegetables in Maryland.
“Workers routinely work for more than eight hours per day,” said Shelly Davis, co-director of the Farmworker Justice Fund. “They often work in the same pesticide-contaminated clothes day after day. Their skin is often bruised or cracked, which allows more pesticides to enter the body.”
The timing of the bill coincides with the CDC’s report, one of the first comprehensive reports on chemicals found in humans.
The study found that almost everyone has at least a trace of pesticides commonly used in gardens, farms and lawns, in their bodies. Health officials don’t yet know how to interpret the data.
Some agriculture business interests oppose the bill over concerns that it might cast a pall over the use of pesticides, and lead to a ban on the chemicals.
“We are concerned about the general perception people will have on pesticides,” said Valerie Connelly, Maryland Farm Bureau spokeswoman.
However, groups like the Physicians for Social Responsibility said reporting requirements could go a long way to help explain some of the health hazards.
“Where there’s information about illness and disease related to these pesticides – that’s the missing link,” said Carolyn Poppell, Physicians for Social Responsibility scientist.
The bill would require the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide information on the health risks of pesticides over the Internet or a toll-free hotline. It would also require the department to collect figures on how many pesticide-related illnesses occur yearly in the state.
Pinsky said he expects a fight when the bill goes to the House, where it must be passed before it goes to the governor: “It will be a little bit of a struggle.”