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Michigan migrant farmworkers file lawsuit against produce company alleging pesticide exposure

green field with two white barns on it
David Cassleman
Interlochen Public Radio

A group of migrant farmworkers in Michigan have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against a produce company operating in the state.

The three farmworkers allege they were regularly exposed to dangerous pesticides while working at a Mastronardi Produce-USA greenhouse in Coldwater.

Mastronardi, which operates under the Sunset brand, sells fruits and vegetables across the United States.

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, a nonprofit legal resource center for immigrants and farmworkers in Michigan, along with Farmworker Justice, a national nonprofit farmworker advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., have filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Anna Hill Galendez, a staff attorney with the immigrant rights center, said the workers were regularly exposed to environmentally regulated pesticides without protection.

“Some of them were made to handle the chemicals directly and they were getting nosebleeds, they had burning in their eyes. They got skin rashes when they had contact with the disinfectants," she said.

According to the lawsuit, the workers should have received personal protective equipment while working with the pesticides.

"Also they should have been provided the proper personal protective equipment designated for each of those chemicals," Hill Galendez added. "And then for workers who weren't handling the chemicals, they shouldn't have been asked and made to enter the greenhouse when there was a dangerous amount of those chemicals still in the air."

Hill Galendez said the workers brought their concerns to supervisors on multiple occasions but nothing was done.

The lawsuit alleges workers were exposed to Virkon S, a broad-spectrum disinfectant and virucide registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The Environmental Protection Agency lays out in a lot of detail the kinds of precautions that should be taken when using dangerous chemicals that are regulated as pesticides," Hill Galendez said.

A spokesperson for Mastronardi declined to comment on the lawsuit.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community. Michelle is also the voice of WKAR's weekend news programs.
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