(Beyond Pesticides, September 30, 2015) On September 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally released its new regulation regarding farmworker pesticide safety, revising the Agricultural Worker Protection Standards (WPS), which are designed to provide protections from pesticide exposure to farmworkers and their families. These standards have not been updated for over 20 years, and EPA had delayed revisions since the first proposed update in 2010. Historically, farmworker advocates have criticized these protections as woefully inadequate in protecting the health of agricultural workers, but these new revisions attempt to strengthen the standards through increased training for workers handling pesticides, improved notification of pesticide applications, and a higher minimum age requirement for children to work around pesticides.
Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers, has praised the revisions as a step in the right direction, but noted that the ruling did not include some significant safety measures. Their statement regarding the revisions were released on Monday:
“We hope that the improved regulation will result in greater awareness by farmworkers of the risks they face, stronger protections from exposure, and ultimately, fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members. . . While we are disappointed that the final rule does not include some significant safety measures, we will continue to work with our community partners to advocate for greater worker protections at EPA and at the state and local levels.”
In Beyond Pesticides’ comments, submitted to EPA in August 2014, we made clear that the exemption for farmworkers that allowed them to expose their own children of any age to these dangerous chemicals made little sense. Unfortunately, EPA has continued this exemption.
The major revisions (effective approximately December 2016) for farmers and farmworkers include:
- Annual mandatory training to inform farmworkers on the required protections afforded to them. Currently, training is only once every 5 years.
- Expanded training includes instructions to reduce take-home exposure from pesticides on work clothing and other safety topics.
- First-time ever minimum age requirement: Children under 18 are prohibited from handling pesticides.
- 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.
- New no-entry application-exclusion zones up to 100 feet surrounding pesticide application equipment will protect workers and others from exposure to pesticide overspray.
- Requirement to provide more than one way for farmworkers and their representatives to gain access to pesticide application information and safety data sheets — centrally-posted, or by requesting records.
- Mandatory record-keeping to improve states’ ability to follow up on pesticide violations and enforce compliance. Records of application-specific pesticide information, as well as farmworker training, must be kept for two years.
- Anti-retaliation provisions are comparable to Department of Labor’s (DOL).
- Changes in personal protective equipment will be consistent with DOL’s standards for ensuring respirators are effective, including fit test, medical evaluation and training.
- Specific amounts of water to be used for routine washing, emergency eye flushing and other decontamination, including eye wash systems for handlers at pesticide mixing/loading sites.
- Continue the exemption for farm owners and their immediate families with an expanded definition of immediate family.
Farm work is demanding and dangerous physical labor. As the scientific literature confirms, farmworkers, their families, and their communities face extraordinary risks from pesticide exposures. Application and pesticide drift result in dermal, inhalation, and oral exposures that are typically underestimated. A 2004 study detected agricultural pesticides in the homes near to agricultural fields. According to a 2010 study, workers experience repeated exposures to the same pesticides evidenced by multiple pesticides routinely detected in their bodies. As a result of cumulative long-term exposures, farmworkers and their children, who often times also work on the farm, are at risk of developing serious chronic health problems such as cancer, neurological impairments, and Parkinson’s disease. Children, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report, face even greater health risks compared to adults when exposed to pesticides. For more information, read our factsheet, Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.
What More Can We Do?
Our food choices have a direct effect on those who grow and harvest what we eat around the world. This is why food labeled organic is the right choice. In addition to serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, and the protection of farmworkers and farm families. See Beyond Pesticides’ guide to Eating with a Conscience to see how your food choices can protect farmworkers. In addition to organic, it is also important to consider food labels that create standards for farmworker safety and fairness. For more information on the different types of labels, see the transcription of Michael Sligh’s talk at the 32nd National Pesticide Forum, titled Social Justice Labeling: From Field to Table.
For more information on Agricultural Justice, and how you can make a difference, see the Agricultural Justice Initiatives Panel from the 33rd National Pesticide Forum.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.