Migrant Farm Workers from Texas Allege Pesticide Exposure in Illinois

More than two dozen migrant workers from Texas allege they were sprayed with toxic pesticides while working in Illinois cornfields, according to a federal lawsuit.

The workers, including teenagers, senior citizens and a pregnant woman, claim they were sprayed by a helicopter and plane treating fields in July and August 2019, despite wearing neon orange hats and backpacks. The 27 workers’ symptoms, according to the lawsuit filed in Springfield, included shortness of breath, blurred vision, eye irritation, vomiting and dizziness. Some said their systems have persisted.

“No farmworker should be exposed to poisonous chemicals when doing their job, let alone multiple times in two weeks,” Lisa Palumbo, the director of Legal Aid Chicago’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights project, said in a statement. “Migrant farmworkers are some of our most vulnerable workers, who grow and harvest the food we eat. Their employer is obligated to ensure they are safe from pesticide exposure, and that they are properly cared for and provided truthful information if exposure occurs. This did not happen here.”

Legal Aid Chicago and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid were among the organizations representing the seasonal workers.

The workers were brought to Illinois from cities in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley including Weslaco and Mercedes. Their main job, paying $9.25 an hour, was removing tassels from corn, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the company that employed the workers, Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., its parent Delaware-based Corteva Inc. did not adequately protect workers, provide proper medical attention or cover hospital bills. Two agricultural aviation businesses in Illinois were also named.

The workers are seeking unspecific damages.

Corteva issued a statement disputing the allegations.

“We believe the claims made are inaccurate, without merit and we intend to vigorously defend against them,” the statement said.

A message left for Pioneer wasn’t immediately returned. Representatives for Farm Air Inc. and Curless Flying Service, companies based in Astoria, did not immediately return messages.

This article was first published in Insurance Journal.

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