New Rules Seek To Keep Farm Workers Safe From Pesticide Side Effects

Farm workers will now be required to have annual training on pesticide handling, including information about how to reduce the risk of taking pesticides home, and children will be prevented from working with pesticides, according to new rules meant to protect farmers from side effects of the chemicals. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on September 28 that it has finalized revisions to farmworker standards in an attempt to protect the two million workers and their families from pesticide exposure risks. It is the first time the rules have been revised since 1992.

“President Obama has called closing gaps of opportunity a defining challenge of our time. Meeting that challenge means ensuring healthy work environments for all Americans, especially those in our nation’s vulnerable communities,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a press release. “We depend on farmworkers every day to help put the food we eat on America’s dinner tables — and they deserve fair, equitable working standards with strong health and safety protections.”

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The new rule updates include a requirement for annual training, a prohibition on the handling of pesticides by anyone under the age of 18, a requirement that they are provided with the proper tools to prevent unnecessary exposure to pesticides for themselves and their families, and that they are made aware of their rights to protection under the new EPA standards.

The goal of the new regulations is to prevent and reduce the risk of injury and illness from those handling pesticides or crops treated with pesticides. It covers workers in farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses, but not those who work with livestock.

Most of the new rules will go into effect in about 14 months after the rule is published to the Federal Register, which the EPA expects will occur within the next 60 days.

Roundup Cancer Concerns

The new regulations come as one of the most popular pesticides on the planet, Monsanto’s Roundup, has come under closer scrutiny amid concerns that the active ingredient, glyphosate, may increase the risk of cancer.

Roundup is one of the most widely used herbicides, which was introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s. However, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a warning about the potential Roundup cancer risks in March, labeling the product a potential carcinogen.

The group recently released a monograph (PDF) detailing its findings on the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate.

Monsanto has said that the IARC’s conclusions were agenda-driven and based on “junk science,” and has indicated it is convening its own independent panel to review the cancer risks of Roundup.

Consumer use of Roundup began to skyrocket in the mid 1990s, after Monsanto introduced genetically engineered crops to withstand treatment with Roundup, killing the weeds and not the crops. Genetically modified crops, like corn and soybean, are branded as being “Roundup Ready.” Some weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, thus forcing farmers to use higher quantities of Roundup.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated agricultural use of glyphosate increased drastically from 110 million pounds in 2002, now to more than 283 million pounds in 2012.

The EPA announced in April that it plans to address the safety concerns of glyphosate during the regular EPA safety review hearing occurring soon. Researchers warn pesticides are commonly detected in the air, food and water near areas that have been sprayed.

California environmental officials announced this month that they are listing Roundup as a cancer-causing agent, which will require new warning labels from Monsanto in order to continue sales in that state.


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