EPA limits enforcement of pesticide application boundaries
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday finalized a rule that narrows the areas where farmers are required to limit human presence during the application of pesticides.
The agency’s new regulation makes it so that rules governing areas surrounding pesticide application are only enforceable on a farmer’s property and not in surrounding “off-farm” areas.
People besides handlers aren’t supposed to be within these so-called application exclusion zones (AEZ) for safety reasons.
Critics say that this risks exposing more people, including those working on nearby farms, to potentially harmful chemicals.
“Pesticides don’t respect property boundaries,” said Iris Figueroa, an attorney with Farmworker Justice, adding that there are many areas where schools, hospitals, hotels and homes are near fields.
“The real life application is going to involve a lot of scenarios where that radius might not be in the agricultural establishment,” Figueroa added. “If the idea is to protect people, and we know that there might be people in that area, then it seems arbitrary to end it at the establishment.”
However, the EPA argued that regulations on areas beyond the farm’s property are difficult to enforce.
“The changes to the AEZ requirements make it easier to ensure people near our nation’s farms are protected, while simultaneously enhancing the workability of these provisions for farm owners and protecting the environment,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
The new rule also reduces the size of the AEZ needed for some pesticide applications.
Under a prior rule, a 100-foot AEZ, the largest option, was required for certain methods of spraying pesticides as well as applications where very fine droplet sizes were used. The 100-foot AEZ is still needed for these specific methods, but the agency will no longer also use droplet size in determining AEZ size.
The new rule was first proposed last year.
Advocates have raised concerns about the potential impact on particularly vulnerable populations, who may have difficulty seeking health care.
“This is not by any means improving enforceability, what it is, is it’s weakening protections for farmworkers,” said Amy Liebman, the director of the Migrant Clinicians Network, which aims to help clinicians provide care for migrants.
“Let us not forget who are farmworkers. They’re largely folks from the Latinx population with limited formal education,” Liebman added.