EPA proposes new worker pesticide protection rules
February 20, 2014
• Would update regulations now 22 years old
• “It is long past time”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it wants to update its 22-year-old Agricultural Worker Protection Standard for pesticides.
Proposed changes include:
• Increased frequency of mandatory trainings (from once every five years to annually) to inform farm workers about the protections they are afforded under the law, including restrictions on entering pesticide-treated fields and surrounding areas, decontamination supplies, access to information and use of personal protective equipment.
• Expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides; the signs prohibit entry into pesticide-treated fields until residues decline to a safe level.
• First time-ever minimum age requirement: Children under 16 will be prohibited from handling pesticides, with an exemption for family farms.
• No-entry buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated fields will protect workers and others from exposure from pesticide overspray and fumes.
• Measures to improve the states’ ability to enforce compliance including requiring employers to keep records of application-specific pesticide information as well as farmworker training and early-entry notification for two years.
• Personal protection equipment (respirator use) must be consistent with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s standards for ensuring respirators are providing protection, including fit test, medical evaluation, and training.
• Make available to farm workers or their advocates (including medical personnel) information specific to the pesticide application, including the pesticide label and safety data sheets.
• Additional changes make the rule more practical and easier to comply with for farmers.
• Continues the exemptions for family farms.
“It is long past time for farmworkers to get the same workplace protections that most other Americans in the workplace do,” says Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice. “We encourage the EPA to strengthen and bolster a safeguard that will help protect those who are on the frontlines of our food system.”
The federal standard, first adopted by the EPA in 1992, has been difficult to enforce, Earthjustice says. The standard does not require record-keeping to document whether pesticide rules have actually been followed and requires only minimal training on the risks that pesticide exposure can pose to workers’ children and families.
While the WPS was designed only with adult workers in mind, agriculture is different from most other industries in that it allows children to join labor crews at 12 years old – even at 10 in some crops – and these children are exposed to pesticides on the job.
An estimated 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States. According to Earthjustice, 10,000 to 20,000 farmworkers are injured by pesticides on the job every year in the U.S.
Last week 52 members of Congress, led by California Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos, and Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, urged EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a letter to release the proposed rule, saying that the current agricultural worker protection standard is “limited” and “insufficient” to protect workers from the hazards of handling pesticides.