Childhood Cancer Clusters in California’s Central Valley

Childhood Cancer Clusters in California’s Central Valley Case report :Sakshi Arora March 22, 2012 This case study examines childhood cancers in agricultural communities of Mc Farland and Earlimart from 1978 to 1995. According to the local residents of these communities the main reason for cancer is contamination through pesticide in the agricultural farms which is the major source of employment for the residents of the community. McFarland is a small community in Kern County, with the population of about 6200, located at the southern end of California’s San Joaquin Valley.
They are the main source of cotton and Almond in the area. Census Data of 1980 revealed that 40 percent of the population is less than 18 years of age. Main source of employment of the population is the farms with the annual income of merely $4300. Due to the limited source of income they were incapable of having health insurance of themselves and the kids. it has been observed that since1978 to 1990, 14 children in McFarland have childhood cancer which is four times the expected rate.
The cancers were of many different types including liver, kidney, eye, adrenal glands, and bone. By 1992, five of the children had died. The families of Mcfarland were disturbed and are in pain due to increasing numbers of the victims. Earlimart is another small farming community located in southern Tulare County about 15 miles north of McFarland in the San Joaquin Valley. Child population of the area is one-third of the adult population. It is surrounded by vineyards.

In 1989, the United Farm Workers union uncovered a second cluster of twelve childhood cancers in Earlimart among children of farm workers. Study of Dr. Marion Moses, a medical consultant for the union, revealed that the cancers occurred in area is 12 times higher than estimated numbers. All the victims were not of same kind. Some of them had leukemia where some died of lymphoma or kidney cancer. “In adults, when you get different types of cancer, then most of the time it is not a Cluster,” It as really shocking as Cancer is rare disease in children, the main thought of question arise about the increasing number ignoring the type of cancer. According to the residents, pesticides are the main cause of increasing number of child death rate in the area. Mcfarland and Earlimart are small communities who are not engaged in lot of activities. Victim’s parents have been examined and most of them reported it is caused by pesticides whereas some residents living have reported that no such incident has been observed in their families.
Their main occupation is agriculture in the farms where pesticide is being used. They have reported contamination of water is also one of the reasons for the cancer. The case unfolds the number of cases which happened with the people throughout the period. They also reported that in spite of informing the harmful effect of the pesticides to their boss . To which no action has been taken instead their interference in such matter would a reason of them to be fired from the job.
The figures of The California Department of Food and Agriculture revealed that there are more than 1,200 cases in California alone in 1986 based on worker compensation records. Nationwide, one estimate calculated as many as 313,000 pesticide-related illnesses among farm worker each year. Dr. Marion Moses, a San Francisco physician active with farm worker groups and a member of the pesticide advisory committee of the Environmental Protection Agency said the main reason for cancer deaths has direct relationship with the pesticides being used in given county.
In 1984, after the discovery of the cancer cluster in McFarland, United Farm Workers, Began a boycott on five chemicals being used on the crop such as phosdrin, captan, dinoseb, methyl bromide, and parathion which were found the main reason for situation. Concerned citizen groups from McFarland asked Kern County officials to look into the cancer cluster in their community. Within the year the investigation took over of California department of health services. After five years of their investigation on the area they came up with the conclusion that pesticide is not the reason for the cancer deaths in the area affected. despite of all the researches they were unable to find the specific cause for the situation. on the other hand farmers were confident about the reason for the same. They felt abandoned by the government as they didn’t see and drop of hope. Numbers have been significantly increasing every year. After years of study on the area department of health services decided to stop their study as they didn’t determine the cause for the new cases of cancer every year. Proposition 65, officially known as the “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,”.
It is based on the premise that the public and workers have a right to be informed about exposures to chemicals that are known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. According the proposition list of chemicals has been maintained with its effects to the people. According to the proposition it is the responsibility of the business to inform its employees, clearly about the effects of such materials used in the process. It should be reasonably defined.
Also 20months after the pesticide is listed business must not knowingly discharge the waste material into soil or water. The State hazard communication program requires that, whenever employees are working in treated fields or handling pesticides, the employer must display Pesticide Safety Information Series (PSIS) leaflet A-9 (“Pesticide Safety Rules for Farmworkers “), PSIS A-8 (“Safety Rules for Pesticide Handlers on Farms), or PSIS N-8 (“Safety Rules for Pesticide Handlers in Non-Agricultural Settings “) at the work site or at a central location where workers gather.
The State hazard communication program requires that, whenever employees are working in treated fields or handling pesticides, the employer must display Pesticide Safety Information Series (PSIS) leaflet A-9 (“Pesticide Safety Rules for Farmworkers “), PSIS A-8 (“Safety Rules for Pesticide Handlers on Farms), or PSIS N-8 (“Safety Rules for Pesticide Handlers in Non-Agricultural Settings “) at the work site or at a central location where workers gather.
As the information gathered from the case report workers have not been informed about any of the above hazards of health. Also it is strange to observe that pesticides being used in the farms also listed in the list of chemicals under prop 65 which were hazardous are not been informed to the farmers. Also investigations done by the agency didn’t reveal the fact that the pesticides the main cause for the cancer in the area. Under prop 65 list of chemical it is clearly stated pesticide phosdrin causes cancer. I don’t hink the research on the contamination water, air and soil was done properly as none of the facts mentioned under prop 65 has been revealed. Neither list of chemicals has been listed by the farm owners to inform to the workers about the hazardous pesticides in the farm nor the researches revealed the facts. All these researches have been done but victim parents did not got any justice. Since they are poor they got no choice but to live on those farms to earn their living and lost their family members just like that.
From 1978to 1990 the people suffered, 28 died . California department of health services took samples for examination, tested soil and air but result were not noticeable. They were only be able to analyses the situation today but couldn’t do anything for the innocent people died in last 12 years. Question arises from this study in the mind as to why this facts were not being examined after years of research by the state and county officials? Were they biased in making a decision?
Although lot of research took place in the area but nothing proved fruitful and the mystery remained unsolved by the health department. Since 1992 no case has been examined but the above time period mentioned couldn’t reveal the facts of the history. Sources: Case report retrieved from http://www. law. stanford. edu/publications/casestudies/case_abstracts/ Pesticide and proposition 65 retrieved from http://www. cdpr. ca. gov/docs/dept/factshts/prop65. htm

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