Pesticides plague Californians of color, new study shows

by Shannon Kelleher

Carmen Obeso was pulling weeds at a strawberry field in Ventura County, California when she smelled something strange. Not far from where she stood, she spotted a machine spraying pesticides. With watering eyes and a sickened stomach, Obeso, a Latina farmworker, reported the incident to her crew leader. After insisting on treatment, she was permitted to visit an on-site health care clinic, where she says a doctor reassured her that she had not been exposed to anything harmful.

Obeso was interviewed by the county agricultural commissioner that same day and was asked if she felt droplets on her skin. She said she had not, since she could not feel the pesticide spray through her long sleeves, hat and face covering. Obeso says that because she said this, her case was never escalated further, and the company expected her back at work the following Monday.

But Obeso didn’t feel better by the next week, nor in the weeks that followed. Her eyes kept watering and began to feel grainy. She knew something was wrong, but the on-site physician still insisted she was fine. Finally, Obeso went to see a different doctor, who confirmed that her eyes had been damaged.