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Ag-Mart Agrees to “Significant” Settlement in Pesticide Birth Defect Lawsuit

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Ag-Mart Produce, which sells fruits and vegetables under the name Santa Sweets, has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a young boy who was born with severe birth defects after his mother was exposed to pesticides while working in Ag-Mart’s fields.

Francisca Herrera, 20, and Abraham Candelario, 21, the parents of Carlos Herrara Candelario, worked in the Ag-Mart’s Florida and North Carolina tomato fields before and after Herrera became pregnant. In depositions, the boy’s parents claimed that Ag-Mart managers did not adhere to seven-day waiting periods after spraying and before sending workers to pick crops. Sometimes, they claimed, workers were sent into the fields the day after spraying. Other times, crops were sprayed with pesticides while workers were in the fields. Carlos, now 3 years old, was born without arms or legs, and with spinal and lung abnormalities.

Circuit Judge Charlene Honeywell of Hillsborough County, Florida – where Ag-Mart is based – agreed to seal the settlement agreement to protect Carlos and his family. Attorneys on both sides said Carlos and his parents would be at risk if their neighbors knew the details. “It’s not the nicest community where they live,” Ag-Mart attorney Keith Wickenden, said after the hearing. While the terms of the settlement are confidential, the family’s attorney said the amount of money involved is significant. Carlos should not have to worry about medical care for the rest of his life, the lawyer said.

The family’s attorney told the “St. Petersburg Times” that the money from the settlement will be placed in trust for Carlos. His parents will have access to the money to buy a house, buy a car and help him to live a normal life. They cannot touch the money for any purpose that does not immediately benefit Carlos.

Farm workers are at great danger due to exposure to toxic pesticides. Children born to mothers and fathers who work on farms often suffer extreme birth defects. America’s Children and the Environment (ACE), a division of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, states: “Studies evaluating the role of pesticides in birth defects have established a connection between maternal and paternal exposure to pesticides and greater dangers of offspring having or dying from birth defects.”

As part of the settlement, Ag-Mart is not admitting to any wrongdoing. But following publicity about Carlos and two other severely disfigured babies born to tomato pickers in South Florida, Ag-Mart stopped using pesticides that had been linked to birth defects. According to the “St. Petersburg Times”, Florida and North Carolina also hit Ag-Mart with hundreds of citations for pesticide misuse.

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