The researcher of the Center for the Study of Workers ‘ Health and Human Ecology (Cesteh) of the National School of Public Health Sergio Arouca (Ensp/Fiocruz) Karen Friedrich explains that there is a requirement of irrefutable proof of the presence of a pesticide in clinical tests on blood or urine. “And that’s hard to occur. Nowadays we use many pesticides – most of the organophosphates, neonicotinoides and pyrethroids group – which are eliminated through urine 24h, 48h, until 72 hours after the worker or resident was exposed. The fact that they leave quickly also do not indicate that they are safe. In this way through the body they may have altered hepatic, renal and hormonal functions and they leave the body, but changing the molecules and leaving often irreversible effects”, she explains.
In this scenario, how to prove that a death was caused by the consumption or handling of pesticides? One of the factors begins with the notification of cases in health information systems, arranged and produced by the Ministry of Health, to help diagnose and address the problem.
Rosany Bochner, Sinitox Coordinator, defends the transformation of these cases in sentinel events. “When dealing with fatalities arising from occupational poisoning by pesticides we are in the presence of rare events, hardly notified, but that show a lot of meanings and senses, keeping behind them several other victims”, she says.
She also explains that the analysis of this information can lead the Government authorities to some positive actions in favour of the worker’s and population health: “the authorities must search for the exhibition site and proceed with surveillance actions, including investigation of working conditions, verification of the use of personal protective equipment (EPI), including their regular exchanges, application of specific tests for blood poisoning by pesticides, for example”.
One of the cases which confirm the importance of notification was the story of VMS, already told in the story that opens the series “Pesticides: the story behind the numbers”. VMS was worker of a multinational in Cidade Alta community, in Limoeiro do Norte (Chapada do Apodi-Ceará). And, after two and a half years working as an aid in the preparation of agrochemical solution to mist on pineapple crop, died at 31 years old.
In 2013, the Justice acknowledged that the death of VMS was motivated “by the occupational environment”, i.e. for the work with the pesticides. The lawsuit by the family of the worker was won in the first and second instances in the Court of Ceará, and represents a milestone in the fight against the intensive use of pesticides, since it opens the precedent to prove legally that exposure to these products, even with “safe use” of EPIs, can lead to death.
Pioneering of Justice
According to lawyer Claudio Silva, cause this was “a victory not only for the author of the action, but a positive cue for thousands of workers subjected to similar situations. There are several situations of exposure to pesticides that remain in obscurity and injustice”, he says. He points out that the decision is a pioneer in Brazil, according to the federal judge who reported the ruling in the Regional Labor Court (TRT-7).
The filing of the Grievance action with Compensation for Material and Non-material Damage resulted in the recognition, by the labour courts, of “the causal link between the continuous exposure of workers to pesticides and the damage (death)”, said the lawyer, who is also a member of the National Network of Lawyers and legally counsels popular movements, civil associations, trade unions, NGOs and organizations of Directs.
In the case of VMS´s family , the legal team who handled the case feared not to find witnesses, but what happened was the opposite, because there was a strong mobilization of employees of the ordered company. “The seriousness of the fact moved colleagues. The main difficulty was the fear of retaliation by the agribusiness companies. The statements presented were decisive for setting the working environment “, explains Claudio Silva.
The action has already been victorious in the first and in the second instance of Justice. But Silva acknowledges that there are limitations that hamper not only the access to justice as a whole, but also the minimum conditions to give social assistance service. “Many health and health and psycho-social care professionals do not know or can not cope with situations of occupational poisoning. A qualified approach certainly would motivate more workers to seek redress in the Judiciary”, he says.
With regard to notification of pesticide poisoning, Silva claims that the situation “is very serious”. He believes that “we have no real dimension of the frame”: “the expansion of the use of pesticides – part of the reproduction process of the areas of agribusiness – endangers everyone involved: rural workers, consumers and the environment”, he emphasizes.
In the documentary “Clouds of Poison”, a partnership of VideoSaúde Distribuidora from Fiocruz, with the Health Department of Mato Grosso and the production company Terra Firma in 2013, it is possible to see the testimony of the trade unionist Wilfo Wandscheer and rural worker Celito Ketzer, who talk about the striking effects of pesticide poisoning. See the link.
Paths of hope
Former manager of Toxicology from Anvisa, the researcher of Cesteh/Ensp/Fiocruz, Luiz Claudio Meirelles, cites some paths that can aid in the improvement of notifications: the structuring of databases about the products, their effects and treatment for the general population and medical professionals; more simplified and interactive registration systems; training of health professionals to understand and record damages; organization of networks of independent researchers to deepen knowledge about pesticides and chronic damage, for example. For him it is still important “information for activities of civil society and trade unions in order to identify the problem and stop the curtailment of the notification activity”.
Claudio Silva believes the Brazilian society has already shown “manifestations of discontent with this model of agricultural production” and that the “academic work has been central to reveal the real consequences of the use of pesticides”. He also points out that the judiciary and the Ministry of Labor have given attention to the problem, with the creation of the National Forum for Combating the Impacts of Pesticides: “the scenario is serious, but there are signs of hope and resilience”, he says. Silva expects the result of the process in the case of VMS “to serve as a paradigm for other actions. This will depend on the ability of workers, individually or by their organizations, to take the demands to the judiciary”
By: Graça Portela & Raíza Tourinho (Icict/Fiocruz)