Thursday, February 27, 2014

Farmer and farmworker advocates both unhappy with EPA's new proposed pesticide rules

Notice to be required under new rules
Last week the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new safety rules for people who work or live near farms who might be exposed to pesticides, including annual training, no-entry areas, signs, and a ban on pesticide handling by children under 16 (with a family exception). Farmworker advocates say the minimum age requirement is too low, and the posting requirement is so loose it will make it more difficult for workers to get information. Farm lobbies say the rules will lead to an increase in paperwork, and potentially increase liabilities, and argue EPA is basing its calculations on estimates, and not concrete facts.

EPA said making the minimum age 18 would cost the industry more money, totaling "about $3.1 million annually, or $11 per agricultural establishment and $320 per commercial pesticide handling establishment per year," Ronnie Greene reports for The Center for Public Integrity. That excuse isn't going over well with farmworker lobbies. Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health for Farmworker Justice, said the new age limit “is better than nothing but I don’t see justification for wanting to expose 16- and 17-year-olds.” She told Greene, “Why you would want somebody that young applying chemicals in the workplace is beyond me."

The current posting requirement calls for a central location for pesticide information. The EPA said many workers don't routinely pass by the area, and proposed a designated location, Greene writes. "To the farmworker community, this is a change for the worse. With a central posting place, they say, farmworkers know there is a spot they can turn for information. But now, they say, the burden will fall on farmworkers – many of them working in the shadows – to actively seek out that information." (Read more)

Other concerns for farm lobbies are a proposed rule that requires "posting of signs in treated areas with restricted entry of over 48 hours; requirements that records of training be kept for two years; and mandatory training would be on an annual basis, instead of every five years, as is the current rule," reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said "requiring increased recordkeeping could possibly open farmers up to increased liability." He told Agri-Pulse, “We don’t want (those regulations) to be put in place if they create legal exposure” for farmers. Another concern, he said, is the amount of work required to install new signs.

While EPA says "changes will save $5 million to $14 million in health care and 'loss of productivity' costs for both farm operators and farmworkers, and will cost industry $62 to $73 million per year," amounting to about $5 to $60 per handler annually, farm advocates say those numbers are based on calculations that pesticide poisoning was under-reported by 25 percent, an estimate the EPA calls conservative, Agri-Pulse writes. "The problem comes down to something simple, but distressing: As EPA frequently notes in its proposed rule, the agency does not have enough data to know how many agricultural workers are affected by pesticide poisoning."

Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

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