Vaughn Cox

“I would go out, wherever there was a group of farmers, … Talk to them. Explain the Right-to-Know law. Here it is. We’re tasked with enforcement. First, we educate you and tell you what you need to do. We will work with you to help you get that set up, and if you refused, then you’ll get some fines. By the time I’d been through it, they can see “This is manageable. Yeah, we can manage this, we can do that. I reckon we will”. I think they(growers) got the idea that’s (aerial pesticide spraying while workers are in the field) not such a good idea. That rule was around long enough and enforced long enough that they just sort of adapted to it. I think they figured out that’s probably not the best way to do business… Especially after we enacted the field sanitation rules that you can’t spray when workers are present. By that time, the health department had inaugurated their rules on toilets and hand washing facilities. That was an interesting approach that Rebecca took with them. She went to them and said, “Look, you need regulation to provide these facilities to farm workers in the field. Because if you don’t, we’re going to start a national boycott explaining to people that when farmworkers are in the field, and they have to go and there’s no place to go, they just go right there. You want to buy lettuce, onions, and cucumbers that have been peed on? Their jaws dropped, their eyes got big, and they said, “I think we can come up with something.’ And they did.”

Vaugn Cox was working for Texas Tech as a researcher studying pesticide residues in the laboratory and the field. During the ‘70s, the primary chemicals that were used were organophosphate insecticides, also known as cholinesterase inhibitors. They push down the enzyme that helps transmit nerve messages. It’s a nervous system poison. His laboratory was available to analyze blood samples from local pesticide applicator personnel, and in a few minutes find out the level of cholinesterase suppression going on. The laboratory would then advise folks, “You need to be away from this for a while till you get straightened out; let your system get back on track. Vaugn heard from aerial applicators, who spent their entire days from early morning till early evening spraying these chemicals, and they would relate that they’re flying about 100 miles an hour, and about 15 seconds behind the plane. That was the level of suppression that they were experiencing. Vaugn’s job was as a pesticide specialist, with particular emphasis on farmworkers. I taught them about the chemicals themselves, and what they do when you are exposed. How you would know if you’re exposed, and that you should see a doctor right away if that happens. What can you do to limit exposure? He talked about hand washing, gloves, and such. Long sleeves and long pants, and that whole bit. The principal impact was just to be on the lookout for that kind of exposure so that you can get help quickly and probably recover fully.