Oct 2, 2015

EPA Acts To Mitigate 44 To 73 Percent Of Acute Pesticide Incidents Among Farmworkers | @ThinkProgress

ThinkProgress...The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a major step this week to protect the thousands of U.S. agricultural workers who are exposed to pesticides every year, many of whom suffer from chronic health effects years after they stop working in the fields.

EPA officials announced that the agency will help mitigate pesticide exposure by updating a two-decade old regulation known as the Worker Protection Standard (WPS).

The finalized revision of the WPS includes increased mandatory training sessions to inform farmworkers on the protections their employers are required to offer them; expanded training to teach workers how to reduce "take-home exposure;" new anti-retaliatory provisions to protect whistleblowers who raise concerns; and "no-entry" application-exclusion zones up to 100 feet surrounding pesticide application equipment to protect workers from pesticide overspray. And, for the first time ever, the revision bars minors under 18 from handling pesticides.

The regulation, which will be phased in over the next two years, will affect agricultural workers and pesticide handlers who work on farms and in forests, nurseries, and greenhouses. Livestock workers are not covered. Once fully implemented, the revised regulation is expected to "avoid or mitigate approximately 44 to 73 percent of annual reported acute WPS-related pesticide incidents," according to the EPA.

Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at the advocacy groupFarmworker Justice, told ThinkProgress that EPA could have "gone farther in certain areas," but welcomed the revised regulation as "a step in the right direction."

Setting a minimum age for pesticide applicators was especially well-received by farmworker organizations. "Children under 18 — their bodies are still developing and a lot of different systems are still maturing," Ruiz noted. "Exposing them to risk could have lifelong health effects."

"People are too immature at 16 years old to be able to handle pesticides, though many people thought that 18 was too young," Jeannie Economos, Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator at the grassroots organization Farmworker Association of Florida, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. "Younger people will think there's no problem, they may not wear personal protective equipment, they might not think it's necessary, or realize what they're doing to their health or other people."

Ruiz agreed that 16- and 17-year-olds don't have "the emotional maturity" to work with pesticides because they may not know how to interact with their bosses when they have health-related questions or concerns. "They might not feel comfortable challenging their supervisors or employers about the potential harm," she said.