EPA Pesticide Exposure Rules Aim To Protect Farmworkers

New pesticide exposure rules were proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday, which the agency indicates will protect millions of agricultural workers who may be exposed to high amounts of potentially harmful pesticides each year.  

The EPA’s proposed farming pesticide safety measures revise existing rules under the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The updates, announced on February 20, create improvements to worker training and safe usage of pesticides, helping to prevent and treat pesticide exposure.

More than two million farm workers are employed throughout the United States, creating thousands of opportunities for exposure to workers and their families; thus heightening the need for stronger guidelines to protect this group, EPA officials say. Not only would the reduction in exposure protect workers’ health, but would be an economic plus for the country, according to EPA officials.

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“The benefits reaped from preventing acute farm worker illnesses add up to $10-15 million a year,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator.

The new regulations include revisions to the mandatory training schedule that would require annual training for workers, as opposed to the current regimen of required training only once every five years.

The regulations also include new restrictions for workers entering pesticide-treated fields, proper use of decontamination supplies, access to protective equipment and implementing measures to reduce take-home exposure from pesticides on clothing. In addition it would make safety data sheets available to workers. The update would include a fitness test, medical evaluation and improved training.

Other changes include an age restrictions that would ban children under the age of 16 from handling any pesticides, except for family farms that may need younger members of the family to help with work.

No-entry signs would be expanded throughout farms, preventing entry to pesticide exposed areas until residues decline to a safe level. This would include buffer areas surrounding treated fields to prevent exposure from overspray and fumes.

The guidelines also update respirator use, making the standards consistent with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

EPA officials say that all of the proposed changes are designed to ensure “agricultural productivity and the preservation of the traditions of family farms.”

The EPA estimates more than 1,200 pesticide exposure incidents are reported on farms, fields and forests each year.

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