(Beyond Pesticides, June 19, 2017) Farmworker and health organizations have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following the agency’s announcement last month that it will delay for one year the implementation of a final rule that revised and updated protections for certified pesticide applicators. Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice are co-counsel on the case. The rule, the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, includes much needed requirements like mandatory age minimums, as well as better training for pesticide applicators to protect workers and the public from poisoning by the most toxic pesticides.
First enacted in 1974, the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule was revised and made final on January 4, 2017, and was scheduled to go into effect March 6, 2017. It outlines regulations regarding the certification of applicators of restricted use pesticides (RUPs)- some of the most hazardous pesticides. The rule ensures that applicators of RUPs get adequate training and establishes a minimum age of 18 for pesticide applicators. It also requires that applicators be able to read and write; increases the frequency of applicator safety training to every year; and improves the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that they apply in agricultural, commercial, and residential settings. Now these new common-sense protections have been delayed until May 2018, after EPA announced that it “determined that the effective date of the revised Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule should be extended until May 22, 2018, and that the agency is taking this action to give recently arrived Agency officials the opportunity to conduct a substantive review of the revised Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule.”
On Wednesday June 14, farmworker and health groups filed suit against EPA for the delay. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and comes a month after the EPA announced the one-year delay to the rule while offering the public just 4 days to comment on the move. The delay means minors or poorly trained applicators can continue to handle some of the most toxic pesticides in agricultural, commercial and residential settings, putting themselves and the public at risk. According to the EPA, there are about one million certified applicators nationwide. Before delaying implementation, the agency said the revised rule could prevent some 1,000 acute poisonings every year.
“EPA’s mission is to protect all Americans from significant risks to human health and yet it’s delaying life-saving information and training for the workers who handle the most toxic pesticides in the country,” said Eve C. Gartner, Earthjustice attorney. “This delay jeopardizes everyone’s health and safety.”
When the EPA adopted the rule, it pointed to various tragic incidents where children died or were seriously injured when poorly trained applicators misused highly toxic pesticides. The agency concluded stronger standards for those applying RUPs will reduce risks to workers and help protect communities and the environment from toxic harms. Yet in delaying the rule, EPA refused to address these findings, and it failed to explain to the public how a delay would not cause unreasonable risks to people.
“There is no justification for delaying common sense measures to improve safety. Each year of delay will result in more poisonings and deaths,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Farmworker Association of Florida, United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Pesticide Action Network North America.
Industry critics believe the new rules are too burdensome on pesticide applicators, citing increased time to meet training requirements and increased costs. However, with recent high profile and tragic pesticide poisonings –including the 2015 poisoning incidents in U.S. Virgin Islands and Palm City, Florida, where evidence revealed that pesticide applicators made gross errors in judgement and were possibly negligent, it is more important than ever for applicators to raise their standards of knowledge and competency in making applications of hazardous pesticides.
Without proper enforcement and oversight, applicators, their clients, and the environment will be at risk. While striving to minimize adverse impact from pesticide use, stricter applicator standards are only one part of the solution. Instead of delaying important applicator standards, EPA must reduce the overall approval, sale, and use of pesticides that are proven to be hazardous to human and environmental health, and for which there are safer alternatives, keeping with its mandate that these products pose no unreasonable adverse effects on people and the environment.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Earthjustice Press Release