By Sheila Kaplan
Investigative Reporting Workshop
Locals call this region the world’s salad bowl. Dole, Naturipe and Fresh Express have farms here, where much of the global fruit and vegetable trade emerges in neat green fields just over the hills from the Pacific coast.
The difficulties facing migrant workers who plant and pick the crops is an old story. But in Salinas, a new story is emerging — one with serious implications for the rest of the country — and an ending that has yet to be written.
It is here that University of California, Berkeley public health professor Brenda Eskenazi and her colleagues have spent the past 12 years studying mothers and children who are exposed to pesticides used in the fields.
The CHAMACOS Center — Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas — is a joint project of UC Berkeley, the Natividad Medical Center, Clinica de Salud Del Valle de Salinas and other community organizations. Its goal is to assess exposure to pesticides and other pollutants in pregnant women and young children, to determine what effect the exposures have on their health, and to try to prevent exposure.
After forming partnerships with local health-care providers more than 10 years ago, the researchers were able to recruit 600 women, who submitted to a series of tests to measure pesticide levels in their bodies. Investigators tracked the women throughout their pregnancies, waiting at hospitals as babies were born to collect the umbilical cord blood. As the children grew, Eskenazi and her team also charted their growth, mental development and general health.
Eskenazi’s work has set off alarms among public health officials.
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