IMMOKALEE — The state is investigating an Immokalee farm for its use of pesticides, which may have hospitalized two pregnant female workers, one of whom lost her baby.
A Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman, Terence McElroy, said the agency was notified around 3 p.m. Tuesday by an anonymous complaint of possible pesticide exposure at Johnson Plants, 2303 Johnson Road, in Immokalee.
Adan Labra, an organizer for the Farmworker Association of Florida, said one woman, who was two months pregnant, lost her child this past weekend. Both women claimed they were exposed to pesticides at the farm.
According to Labra, both women, whose names weren’t released, suffered flu-like symptoms, headaches and nosebleeds. Other workers have also complained about those symptoms, he said.
The second woman who was hospitalized remained in NCH North Naples Hospital after delivering twins, Labra said.
McElroy said the Department of Agriculture spoke with the Farmworker Association of Florida. The state agency has not concluded that pesticide exposure occurred as of Thursday, McElroy said.
“We are investigating this matter right now,” McElroy said.
The agency is still waiting for field reports to come in from investigators who were looking into what pesticides were used and how much time passed after pesticides were used before workers were told to return to the fields. The state is also investigating whether required protective equipment was used. Results could take several days, officials said.
Farmworkers worked right after the pesticide was sprayed, Labra said in Spanish.
“They had to enter because their boss would say if they didn’t go inside to work inside the greenhouse they could go home and lose their jobs,” Labra said.
Workers didn’t get gloves, masks or any other type of protection, he said.
Officials from Johnson Plants couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday and Thursday.
McElroy said the women declined to talk to the Department of Agriculture.
The department is also getting interviews with people on-site, including farmworkers.
“We have to make sure that the workers put up a complaint to the Florida Department of Agriculture, who is in charge of enforcing the law,” said Tirso Moreno, general coordinator of Farmworker Association of Florida.
He said workers don’t understand their rights, they are afraid of the employer and may be threatened by the employer.
“This is a common problem here in Immokalee,” Moreno said.
The state agency regulates pesticide use in Florida. The state has specific rules and regulations regarding farmworkers, including protective equipment and delays for re-entering a farm after the use of pesticide.
McElroy said the department rarely gets pesticide exposure cases, with about 2 to 3 per year.
Labra said he didn’t know if the women would file a lawsuit and wants them to speak with state officials so that the company improves its policy.