Migrant Farmworkers' Perceptions of Pesticide Risk Exposure in Adams County, Pennsylvania: A Cultural Risk Assessment
AbstractAgricultural exceptionalism, a system in which regular labor laws and standards do not apply to farm labor, makes migrant farmworkers particularly vulnerable populations—economically, socially, and in terms of environmental health. To address inequities inherent in migrant farmworker marginalization, studies advocate for actively engaging the migrant farmworker population in the conversation surrounding these issues. We conducted 40 semistructured interviews with migrant farmworkers in Adams County, Pennsylvania, to understand pesticide risk exposure perceptions and practices. We employed the Health Belief Model as our cultural risk assessment frame, using it in combination with technical risk assessment, which uses government calculations (from the Environmental Protection Agency) to quantify pesticide risk exposure. We used mixed methods analyses (quantitative and qualitative) to compare and understand farmworker demographics, perceived risk, perceived control, and risk behavior. Results show that demographics —e.g., age, education, visa status—are important factors in risk perception. They also confirm observations present in many earlier studies. While trainings and educational materials are valuable to help build awareness of risk, a systemic lack of control over their circumstances make it hard for migrant farmworkers to engage in safe behavior. Results also highlight the limitations of technical risk assessment. Such calculations, however, rarely account for risk perceptions and experiences of farmworkers themselves. Acknowledging the voices of migrant farmworkers is an essential first step in rebalancing inequities of power in our food systems, and cultural risk assessment can help frame recommendations that target different stakeholders across the pesticide regulatory spectrum to ensure migrant farmworker needs and safety.
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