Pescadero farmworkers evicted due to nitrates in water supply

Posted by on Fri, May 21, 2010

San Mateo County has closed down two farmworker labor camps housing more than 50 individuals because nitrate levels in their drinking water were six time the federal limit, reports Julia Scott in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The families are tenants of "Red" Marchi, their employer and owner of Marchi’s Central Farm. The farm grows 300 acres of Brussels sprouts, leeks and other vegetables in and around Pescadero. [...]

[County health director Dean] Peterson and Marchi say no one is living at either labor camp anymore. But Kerry Lobel, executive director of Pescadero-based community nonprofit group Puente de la Costa Sur, says most families are still there because they have nowhere else to go.


The Bay Area News Group reported Monday that nitrates have been found in the wells that supply drinking water to more than 2 million Californians over the past 15 years. Yet government regulators have failed to make controlling nitrates a high priority, even as it has become the most common groundwater contaminant in the country.

Nitrates are linked to blue baby syndrome, which cuts off oxygen to essential organs in infants. It can also affect pregnant women and immuno-compromised adults.

Lobel estimated that between five and eight infants are living in both labor camps and possibly some pregnant women as well.

The county has known that the labor camp has a history of nitrate contamination and the farm has a "long history of housing safety violations", reports the County Times.

This is a short summary of a much longer story that should be read in its entirety.

It was reported in the HMB Review that the farmer was providing highly contaminated creek water for his workers to cook with. 

“State health guidelines allow drinking water to have a nitrate content no higher than 45 milligrams per liter. When county health officials first inspected the farm on April 29, they tested a water sample from a faucet in one of the employee homes. The test showed a nitrate content of 205 milligrams.

County health inspectors returned one week later to do a second test, and they went to the farm’s well, the only permitted water source on the site. But the second test came back with a nitrate content of only 55 milligrams — still a violation, but not nearly as severe of a health concern.

“That didn’t make sense,” Peterson said. “How could the nitrate levels go up fourfold?”

More tests showed again that the water in the workers’ homes had a nitrate content as high as 290 milligrams while the water from the well had significantly lower traces of the toxin.

The answer, county officials learned, was that the tap water in the workers’ homes wasn’t coming from the well at all. It was instead being piped directly from a spring on the farm — an illegal source not permitted by the county.

Nitrates are a common byproduct from synthetic fertilizers that are known to frequently run off into surface water. It is unknown exactly why the farm creek had such high nitrate levels or how long tenants living at the farm had been exposed to the water.”

Who is ultimately responsible for ensuring water quality in San Mateo County? 

Who will represent the migrant families?

Sabrina Brennan asks, who will represent migrant families? Puente Resource Center is working closely with and advocating for families currently living at Marchi Farms. If you or anyone you know has any information about rental housing, please give us a call at 650.879.1691. Thank you.

Making a donation to the evicted Marchi Central Farmworkers is easy!

Puente de la Costa Sur Community Resource Center website:

Link to Puente de la Costa Sur donation web page: