A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

EPA won’t delay new rule aimed at protecting farm workers from pesticides despite AFBF request

Rejecting requests from the American Farm Bureau Federation and state agriculture departments, the Environmental Protection Agency says its new rule designed to protect farmworkers from pesticides will take effect Jan. 2, as scheduled.

“The rule includes a host of new requirements to protect the nation’s 2 million farmworkers, including annual training (instead of every five years) for the workers themselves; mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides; and new no-entry ‘application exclusion zones’ of up to 100 feet to protect workers from spray drift,” Stephen Davies reports for Agri-Pulse.


A major objection to the rule is that it would allow farmworkers to designate a third party to receive information about pesticide use at a farm. Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and ecological health at Farmworker Justice, “said it’s important for workers, who often do not speak English and are afraid that asking for information might threaten their employment, to be able to designate someone else to receive pesticide use information,” Davies reports. “Farm groups and their members are worried that anti-pesticide groups could gain access to the records and ‘make it seem as if (the farmers) are doing something illegal,’ said Paul Schlegel,” Farm Bureau’s director of environment and energy policy.

Earlier, the nation’s biggest farm lobby and state agriculture departments asked the EPA for the one-year delay “because EPA has not told states how to implement it,” Stephen Davies reports for Agri-Pulse.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture claim EPA violated the law by not delivering “enforcement guidance, educational materials, and training resources necessary to effectively implement the rule changes and assist the regulated community with compliance activities.”

“One specific sticking point is the ‘designated representative’ provision in the November 2015 Worker Protection Standard (WPS) rule, Davies reports. “That provision would allow farm workers to choose a person – a member of a nonprofit group, for example – to request pesticide hazard and application information, which must be accessible to workers or handlers of pesticides.” Farm groups have been critical of the provision, saying it could compromise “confidential business information.'”

AFBF and NASDA also note that the provision was not in a “draft final” rule submitted to Congress in May 2015, which EPA acknowledged, and say the requirements for application exclusion zones, which “must be free of all persons other than appropriately trained and equipped handlers during pesticide applications,” are unclear. “The Association of American Pesticide Control Officials had asked EPA in August to consider delaying the effective date” of the rule and let states allow allow workers housed in an exclusion zone to “shelter in place” instead of leaving the area, “as the rule would appear to require,” Davies reports.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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