Immokalee Babies and Birth Defects

The Palm Beach (Florida) Post is reporting that Ag-Mart has settled a civil suit filed by a migrant farmworker family who alleged their son’s serious birth defects were associated with the company’s improper handling of pesticides.  Earlier reporting in March 2005 by the PB Post exposed the working and living conditions of this family and other farmworkers, and birth defects among some of their children.  

At the same time this settlement was reported, another Florida newspaper wrote that violations against Ag-Mart for failure to comply with the State’s pesticide use rules had nearly all been dropped by an administrative law judge.  Oddly, these violations (e.g., failing to provide protective equipment for employees working with pesticides, allowing workers to harvest crops too soon after chemicals were sprayed, burning pesticide containers) all seem like the type of practices that might have contributed to the workers’ exposure and possible link with the infants’ malformations.  This development, coupled with the fact that the Ag-Mart case settlement is protected by a confidentiality agreement, creates serious obstacles for public health prevention.


In fall 2004, the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) sponsored a symposium entitled “Sequestered Science: the Consequences of Undisclosed Knowledge.”  Our objective was to explore the competing values and interests in both science and the law of knowledge disclosure.  As Givelber and Robbins noted in their paper:

“Public health practice—the prevention of disease and injury and the protection of the population—relies on access to information.  Legal practice treats information very differently; it is a weapon; has power and value, and it is rarely yielded without getting something in return.”

“Civil litigation uncovers a great deal of otherwise unavailable information about practices and products which may cause disease and injury.  However, common practices in and related to lawsuits, trails, and courts, such as protective orders, sealing orders and confidential settlments, can deprive public health authorities and the public itself of information that might be helpful to prevent disease, injury, disability, and death.”

The Ag-Mart case involves this precise issue: a confidential settlement.  I wonder what we might have learned about the types of pesticides used by the company, their chemical-application processes, and their worker-protection systems.  As Givelber and Robbins note:

“Protective orders and secrecy agreements have shielded many patterns of injury and disease associated with dozens of materials, products, and processes, such as pharmaceuticals, truck and automobile designs, child car seats, cigarette lighters, school lunch tables, and water slides.  Three well-known examples illustrate the problem: asbestos, Dalkon Shield, and Bridgestone/Firestone tires.”

We cannot say whether the products or practices identified in the Ag-Mart case rise to the same level as these examples exactly because we are not privy to any details.  Some documents, such as the monetary amount that Ag-Mart agreed to provide these parents, should remain confidential.  (The parents’ attorney says: “any care this child will require over the course of his lifetime will be provided by the settlement of this case” which will alleviate a huge emotional and economic burden for them.)   To the extent, however, that information gathered in the course of the litigation exposed information which might prevent future harm to public health or safety, it should not be “sealed” from public access.  As the PB Post articles remind us, other children of workers employed at Ag-Mart field were also born with birth defects.  Why doesn’t the knowledge-generation exercise from the first case freely inform us about other potential cases of harm?

During our preparation for the “Sequenced Science” symposium, we learned of the rule adopted by the U.S. District Court for the district of South Carolina, which says:

“No document (including court orders) may be sealed in this district if the documents contain information concerning matters that have a probable adverse effect upon the general public health or safety, or the administration of public office, or the operation of government.”  (An article by the chief judge here.)

For those interested in health and safety issues of vulnerable populations such as the farmworkers, the Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association will be hosting a Health Disparities Institute at its annual meeting this year (October 25-29 in San Diego, California.)

Comments

  1. #1 Toxic Reverend
    March 28, 2008

    The web page of mine that I have cited contains information on
    the “Sunshine Laws” that can be used to keep such vital
    information from being “sealed”, in the court records.

    Because the courts keep bouncing the “Sunshine Act” around,
    I linked the Google search terms, “sunshine law liability define”
    onto the words “Sunshine :aw” at the Red Collar Crime page.

    There are a few problems that make this look rather bleak.

    Since the page is a rough draft, I’ll give a quick quote, but
    the reference libnks are active, at the page. Many of the censored web pages have been linked now into the Archive WayBack Machine, at :>:
    http://www.angelfire.com/nm/redcollarcrime/

    Excerpts:

    “Sunshine Laws” were passed to prevent such things, but have failed. Even so, the corporations could not do this alone. They are not the only ones to blame. After learning of so many people “sealing the records” how can I say that I would not if presented with the same situation ?

    But now it is even worse with President Bush having signed the laws that “cap” liability law suits, last year. There is no motive for a corporation to “do the right thing”. Not financial or criminal accountability.

    *See “Class Action Bill“, an article with commentary before it was signed into law, and Contains Censored Information:> a letter signed by 46 State Attorney Generals was ignored by the Senate when they passed the bill, (60 votes to 39) ! Who voted for and who voted against is Archived by their names !

    Could our situation be the cause and effect of an unjust judicial system ( 101)? Could this be why Bin Laden calls us “infidels”. Defined as “people that fail in their moral obligation to humanity”.

    We have to change the “corporate personhood” so that corporate executives can be held criminally liable for the crimes and murders that they commit with their corporations .

    (Note; Project Censored has kept moving the address, so I give the Archived address, with the first link going to their main page.
    The archived copy is titled “Archived”).

    The story”How a Clerical Error Made Corporations People” documents, corporations are killing us and protecting the guilty parties (corporate executives) because of nothing more than a clerical error ! In reference:Project Censored 2004 – Story #13 : Corporate Personhood Challenged, WILD MATTERS, February 2003 Title: Americans Revolt in Pennsylvania: New Battle Lines Are Drawn Author: Thom Hartmann THE HIGHTOWER LOWDOWN, April 2003 Title: “How a Clerical Error Made Corporations ‘People'” Author: Jim Hightower (Archived copy).

    From news story reference 162

    Michael McCann, longtime district attorney of Milwaukee County, (retired 12 / 31 / 2006 ) ,
    was best known for prosecuting Jeffrey Dahmer. But McCann has also prosecuted more than ten corporations for reckless homicide over the last two decades and has won every case. More than that, Michael McCann is also an opponent of the death penalty.

    End of excerpts from reference 162

    At the main page of No More Red Collar Crime
    Scroll down for the new section,
    The Political Fallout of Criminal Charges Against Corporations:
    subtitled: The Failings Of Campaign Financing

    Verifiable information of instances and the how of it are given.

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