Collected: 16,512 long-sleeve, lightly colored shirts to protect farmworkers from excessive heat, pesticide exposure 


May 2, 2024

Each year in the U.S., tens if not hundreds of thousands of farmworkers are exposed to dangerous pesticides while working crop productions. The exact number is not known – years back, the Centers for Disease Control reported that diagnosed cases of sickness from pesticide poisoning range from 10,000 to 20,000 annually. And many more workers are exposed to excessive heat.

What is agreed upon, however, is the pernicious effect exposure to excessive heat and pesticides can have on both adult farmworkers and child farmworkers – the latter are more susceptible than adults because of their growing bodies. 

“The immediate aftermath of acute pesticide poisoning can result in rashes, vomiting, and even death,” writes the environmental legal advocacy group Earth Justice. “In the long term, pesticide exposure has been associated with increased risks of cancers, infertility, neurological disorders, and respiratory conditions.” 

According to Mother Jones, death from heat stroke among outdoor workers has risen over the past two decades along with temperatures driven higher and higher by the burning of fossil fuels. Agricultural workers face more than 35 times the risk of heat-related deaths than other occupations, a 2016 analysis of federal labor statistics found.  

“Sadly, it is not surprising to hear about so many farmworker deaths that are likely related to the conditions they face in the workplace, including exposure to excessive heat and air pollution,” Mayra Reiter, project director of Occupational Safety and Health for the nonprofit Farmworker Justice, told the magazine. 

In recognition of National Farmworker Awareness Week, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs recently embarked on its annual nationwide drive to collect long-sleeve, lightly colored shirts to protect farmworkers from exposure to pesticides as well as excessive heat. 

The result: 16,512 shirts were collected nationwide. They are being distributed to the farmworker community along with key take-home materials stressing pesticide safety and heat stress protection. Since 2014, 111,401 shirts have been collected. 

National Farmworker Awareness Week is a week of action for communities and individuals to bring attention to farmworkers and honor them for the contributions they make to Americans’ daily lives. The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs has been an advocate for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the U.S. since 1971. It engages in advocacy and promotes job training and job safety, and is a member of the Coalition on Human Needs. AFOP briefed CHN members and partners on the shirt drive during our regular meetings, and we are grateful so many responded to their call for donations. 

With Congress slated to reauthorize the Farm Bill in the coming months, we have an opportunity not only to push Congress to protect and strengthen nutrition programs but also to push for policies to protect workers throughout the food chain – including those who often feel the impact first hand of climate change.