March 31, 2023
Springfield, IL – The Illinois Senate yesterday passed legislation that guarantees a fine will be imposed for human exposure to pesticides. Those fines will escalate based on the number of persons impacted.
Senate Bill 203, sponsored by State Senator Karina Villa (D-West Chicago), creates a new category for human exposure incidents to pesticides in Illinois. Any individual found to have used a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with the label that results in human exposure will face penalties. The amount of the penalty will escalate based on the number of humans exposed. Under the new penalty structure, if 1-2 humans are exposed, the penalty will be $500 per person. For 3-4 humans exposed, the penalty will be $750 per person. And, if 5 or more humans are exposed, the penalty will be $1,250 per person.
The bill was inspired by a particularly egregious set of incidents that harmed multiple farmworkers in central Illinois, with minimal repercussions in Illinois state law.
“In 2019, there was an incident in DeWitt County where over 20 migrant farmworkers were exposed to the harmful effects of pesticide, and despite this exposure, they were still expected to return to work. This was a reprehensible abuse of power; at the bare minimum all workers, whether or not they are migrant, deserve safe working conditions,” said Sen. Villa. “This legislation aims to hold those who expose others to pesticide responsible and to ensure safe conditions for farmworkers are met. With the passage of this legislation from the Senate, I hope workers no longer need to worry about pesticide exposure.”
Most of those farmworkers in 2019 were sprayed with pesticides on more than one occasion while working in Illinois corn fields. Those events led to a federal lawsuit filed in December 2019 against Pioneer Hi-Bred, its corporate parent, agricultural giant Corteva Inc., and aerial applicator companies. The 27 farmworkers were represented by Legal Aid Chicago, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
Under the current law, the Department of Agriculture imposed a fine of only $750 on the party responsible for spraying those workers in DeWitt County. Sen. Villa worked with ELPC, Legal Action Chicago, and Illinois Environmental Council to increase fines for human exposure.
“Senate Bill 203 helps achieve better accountability from pesticide sprayers, and better protection for vulnerable farmworkers from pesticide exposure,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “The increased penalties for improper pesticide spraying reinforce the need for safer practices to protect public health. ELPC and our partners worked hard to advance this legislation, and we commend chief sponsor Sen. Karina Villa for her persistence in moving this important legislation forward in passing the Senate.”
“There must be real accountability for non-compliance with the rules about pesticide use in proximity to human beings working in nearby fields,” said John Bouman, Director of Legal Action Chicago. “The rules are there for an important reason: the health and safety of working people.”
SB 203 was supported by ELPC, Illinois Environmental Council, Legal Action Chicago, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and Citizen Action Illinois. The bill passed by a vote of 51-2 and now moves to the Illinois House for consideration.