Ramona Reyes Saucedo was getting containers of a pesticide called Virkon S ready to be sprayed in greenhouses at Mastronardi Farms in Coldwater, Michigan, when she started to get sick. “I had burning sensations in my nostrils, and then I felt like I couldn’t breathe well, and then my nose started bleeding,” she told Civil Eats over the phone, in Spanish. “I wore a surgical mask and goggles on top of my glasses, but . . . it wasn’t enough. I needed a special mask.”
Reyes Saucedo, who is originally from Mexico, had tended to Mastronardi’s tomato, cucumber, and strawberry plants seasonally for about six years before the company—which sells its produce under the brand Sunset—hired her as a sanitation worker. According to a lawsuit filed on behalf of workers on June 1, a tomato virus hit the greenhouses just as she was starting her new role. (Mastronardi did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
To fight the pathogen, supervisors began telling workers to apply pesticides more frequently. Virkon S—which is known to cause respiratory irritation and which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautions can cause “irreversible eye damage and skin burns”—was one of three identified in the lawsuit. Reyes Saucedo’s co-workers were also allegedly exposed to bleach and Virocid, which is harmful if inhaled and can cause severe burns, eye damage, and allergic skin reactions. Reyes Saucedo said one of her co-workers had a rash all over her arms. Many complained of burning eyes and bloody noses.
Civil Eats, 07-09-22