EPA to overhaul pesticide regs

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new regulations to safeguard the nation’s millions of agricultural workers against pesticide poisoning.

A draft rule unveiled Thursday would establish mandatory annual training regulations, additional requirements for the posting of “no entry” signs and buffer areas around treated fields and a prohibition on the handling of pesticides by children under the age of 16.

“We can’t turn our backs on the people who feed the nation,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “They need to be protected.”

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Government data show that between 10,000 and 20,000 workers suffer from pesticide poisoning each year. Factoring in unreported illnesses, pesticide exposure results in untold numbers of hospital visits, sick days and lost wages, Jones said.

The new rule would revise the EPA Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides, last updated more than two decades ago. The standard applies to farms, forestland, nurseries and greenhouses.

The draft rule starts the clock on a 90-day public comment period, which will be followed by final regulations. Jones said the entire process was expected to take a year.

If enacted, the annual training requirement would reflect a significant increase from current regulations, which call for training every five years.

The rule would for the first time bar children from working with pesticide, though the proposal contains certain exemptions for family farms.  The proposal also lays out new requirements involving the dissemination of materials explaining the dangers of pesticides and new standards for respirators used by agricultural workers, putting them on par with other industries.

“EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by workers in other jobs,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said. “Protecting our nation’s farm workers from pesticide exposure is at the core of EPA’s work to ensure environmental justice.”