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Praise and criticism comes out over new EPA pesticide rules

By Karen Graham     Oct 7, 2015 in Environment
When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its updated pesticide use regulations last week, the rules were hailed as a game-changer for American farms and workers.
The new regulations will affect approximately two million people who grow and harvest our food. The rules are set to go into effect in early 2017.
Pesticides can be extremely dangerous, causing a wide range of adverse health problems. They can include skin rashes, nausea, headaches, birth defects, reproductive disorders, and an increase in certain types of cancers. Pesticides have also been linked to behavioral problems and cancers in children whose mothers were exposed to pesticides while pregnant. And the list of adverse effects doesn't touch on the harm to wildlife, or our drinking water.
Even with knowing the risks involved, over 900 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. farms every year. But the statistic that doesn't receive any attention is the number of farm workers who are poisoned by pesticides every year. The EPA estimates "about 10,000 to 20,000 farm workers are diagnosed with pesticide poisoning and between 1,800 and 3,000 occupational pesticide exposure “incidents” are also reported every year."
A New Mexico farm
A New Mexico farm
City of Albuquerque Open Space
Updated rules covering farm workers
At this time, there is no minimum age requirement for someone to be allowed to apply pesticides. Farm workers, even children as young as 12 years old, are allowed to mix and apply dangerous chemicals on fields, or in greenhouses, nurseries. and forests. The updated regulations require that workers must be at least 18 years old to apply pesticides, and children under the age of 18 are barred from entering fields where a pesticide has been applied for 48 hours. In greenhouses, the time limit is four hours.
The new rules also call for better training in pesticide use, with instructional classes to be held yearly, instead of once every five years. Farmers will have to keep records of pesticides used as well as training given. Farm owners will also have to provide protective clothing to all workers, including well-fitted respirators.
The new rules include a new anti-retaliation standard. This means farm workers will be able to speak freely when they see safety violations without fear of retribution. United Farm Workers (UFW) president Arturo Rodriguez said, “this allows even undocumented workers to protect themselves.” Rodriquez added, "The same rules that have protected other American workers from dangerous cancer- and birth-defect causing pesticides are finally going to protect farm workers under the new EPA regulations."
Criticism of the updated EPA rules
When the new EPA rules came out on September 28, critics were quick to complain the agency was in bed with advocacy groups that had pushed for the changes in the pesticide regulations. Jim Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, had the lead role in developing the regulations.
Jones has taken the brunt of the accusations of alleged bias, even though he insists his team spent more time with farm owners and manufacturers than they did with farm workers. As for complaints that the changes will cost farmers an exorbitant amount of money to be in compliance, Jones said, We think that for the average farm, the impact (from the rules) will be quite small. It could average up to $150 a year for small farms and as much as $400 a year for larger operations. Most of the cost is related to the requirement that they annually train their workers, which is a current requirement for other businesses whose workers work around chemicals.
The Agricultural Retailers Association took offense at Rodriquez being present at the EPA press conference when the new rules were announced, arguing his being there shows “the extent to which one advocacy group’s position influenced the final rule.”
The Pesticide Policy Coalition, whose members include the Agricultural Retailers Association, argued the EPA failed to consider the “significantly improved farm worker demographics and safety since 1992; a steep and ongoing reduction in incidents of acute poisoning; and a lack of evidence of elevated levels of chronic illnesses among farm workers.”
One of the biggest groups, the American Farm Bureau Federation complained the EPA was piling on more useless regulations that have little to do with safety. Jones maintains the new regulations will only improve the safety and health of the nation's farm workers. "We think we’re putting into place … some very common-sense, straightforward requirements related to how we need to be training farm workers” who are working with pesticides, he said.
More about updated EPA rules, pesticide use, Farm workers, Training, influenced by advocates
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