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The author responds

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Overall, I stand behind my story, “Harvesting Poison” (HCN, 9/29/03: Harvesting Poison). While the Washington Department of Agriculture has done some work to address the safety of illegal farm workers, these people remain a largely invisible, and neglected, workforce.

Reading Mr. Zamora’s letter, one might think the two of us were in different rooms when our interview took place. But I believe what he told me supports what I wrote in the article. I have a direct quote from Zamora, stating, “We’re a police agency, we should be looking out for problems.”

The observation that Zamora sees his job as a “personal struggle” was my own. I based it on his personal encounter with pesticide drifting onto his son’s playground, and on the pressure he has gotten for attempting to enforce pesticide regulations. The statement about the poor enforcement of the Worker Protection Standard was supported by many people I interviewed, including Zamora. He told me, “It’s not uncommon to see growers violating re-entry,” adding, “people aren’t used to having someone enforce the laws.”

Critics have also questioned my claim that 800 to 1,000 farm workers die from poisoning each year. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration produced this estimate, and it appeared in the May 1, 1987, Federal Register. In 1996, when Yale University’s John Wargo wrote Our Children’s Toxic Legacy, this was the most recent such statistic. I could find nothing more current. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks injuries and deaths resulting from farming, but it does not report on fatal illnesses such as those caused by long-term exposure to chemicals.

I would like to correct two errors. First, I’d stated that Zamora’s father was an immigrant; in fact, his father’s parents came here from Mexico. Second, Zamora has a doctorate in plant science, not in botany. His bachelor’s degree is in botany.

Rebecca Clarren
Portland, Oregon
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