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EPA Cites Martex for Failure to Protect Its Workers' Safety at Two Farms in Puerto Rico

Release Date: 02/03/2005
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OR RELEASE: Thursday, February 3, 2005

(#05009) SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has filed a complaint against Martex Farms Exit EPA disclaimerfor violating the worker protection provisions of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Martex owns numerous large commercial farms covering thousands of acres in Puerto Rico and has over 300 employees.

Martex, which in late 2003 had received several Notices of Warning for worker protection violations at its farms, was reinspected by the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture and EPA inspectors in April 2004 as part of a large worker protection enforcement initiative in Puerto Rico. Violations found during the reinspection included failure to post specific information regarding what kinds of pesticides are being applied where and when and failure to provide adequate decontamination supplies and protective equipment for Martex employees. EPA has filed a 338-count complaint against Martex for violating FIFRA's worker protection and safety requirements at its farms in Juaca and Coto Laurel and is seeking over $400,000 in civil penalties.

"We are committed to protecting agricultural employees from unnecessary exposure to pesticides," said Thomas V. Skinner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Martex has failed to provide employees with the required protective equipment, decontamination supplies and information on the pesticides being applied."

"Pesticides are toxic, which is why they should be handled carefully and only used according to directions on the labels," said Kathleen C. Callahan, Acting EPA Region 2 Administrator. "This company cut corners and put its workers at risk."

Martex Farms has the opportunity to plead its case before an administrative law judge or to contact EPA to negotiate an informal settlement of the matter.

Worker protection standards are designed to reduce poisoning and injuries among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers. They regulate pesticide use and require that workers and pesticide handlers be given appropriate training, equipment and information. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that chemical workers suffer from high rates of illnesses commonly associated with chemical use. Tens of thousands of such illnesses are reported each year. Workers may be injured from direct spray, drift or residue left by pesticides applications; handlers face additional risks from spills, splashes, inhalation and inadequate protective equipment.

Worker protection regulations protect the more than 3.5 million people who work with pesticides at over 500,000 workplaces. Among other requirements, agricultural employers are required to restrict entry to treated areas, provide notification of pesticide applications, post specific information regarding what kinds of pesticides are being applied where and when, assure that employees have received safety training, post safety information; provide decontamination supplies, and provide access to emergency assistance when needed.