Hazardous and Solid Waste

What They’re Saying About the Pesticide Worker Protection Standard

At this writing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is close to issuing a final rule amending the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Yesterday we recapped some of the changes the EPA has proposed to update this standard, which is meant to protect farm workers and their families from exposure to pesticides. Today we will review some comments the EPA has received concerning the proposed WPS amendments.

According to the EPA, the proposal represents more than a decade of extensive stakeholder input on the current WPS from federal and state partners and from the agricultural community, including farmworkers, farmers, and industry. The EPA proposed the WPS on March 19, 2014. An extended comment period closed August 18, 2014. The Agency has received more than 393,000 comments on the proposal. The Advisor reviewed a number of them and will give you the gist of what folks are saying about the proposed amendments to the WPS. All the comments can be reviewed at regulations.gov.

Migrant Clinicians’ Network

The Migrant Clinicians’ Network (MCN) is generally supportive of the WPS amendments. Among the MCN comments were some addressing age, training, and hazard communication. The MCN called on the EPA to emphasize training regarding the possible reproductive health effects of pesticide exposure. The MCN would also rather see a minimum age of 18, as opposed to the proposed age of 16, for pesticide handlers and early-entry workers. The MCN is also critical of the proposal to remove the requirement to post pesticide application-specific information in a central location. According to the MCN, while the EPA proposes that the information be made available upon request except in the case of a medical emergency, the proposed change places the onus of responsibility on the worker, advocate, or clinician to obtain or request this information.

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Lideres Campesinas

According to Lideres Campesinas, a grassroots organization of farmworker women, EPA’s proposed WPS amendments fall far short of protecting its communities. Lideres thinks that the proposal does not give farmworkers the same protections as other workers. Lideres calls on the EPA to raise the minimum age for pesticide handlers from the age of 16 to the age of 18, and to restore the central posting requirement so workers have direct access to pesticide-application information. The organization also wants stronger antiretaliation provisions to match protections for workers in other industries.

United Farm Workers

United Farm Workers (UFW), while pleased that there are proposed WPS changes at all, wants the EPA to strengthen certain aspects in the final rule. It also wants the minimum age for pesticide handlers to be 18, and wants the central posting requirements for pesticide applications to be reinstated. In addition, UFW says that all workers who handle neurotoxic pesticides should have the strongest protections medically available, and that this should not be dependent on the states, some of which have stronger neurotoxic pesticide-monitoring programs than others.

National Council of Agricultural Employers

The National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), the national trade association representing labor-intensive agriculture, is concerned about the economic impact of the proposed WPS changes. Although the association agrees that ongoing updates and enhancements to the WPS are important actions by the EPA, it does not support the wholesale changes to the standard currently proposed. The NCAE supports better and more targeted training of workers to help them embrace continually changing agricultural practices, pesticide products, and pesticide registration requirements, and to ensure that pesticide labels are being followed.

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Small Business Administration

The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy criticized EPA’s economic analysis. The SBA commented that although small businesses in general support a broader WPS, many small businesses have expressed concerns that the additional costs associated with the proposed revisions would impose unnecessary burdens without improving worker safety. In addition to a number of other concerns with the proposal, the SBA does not think that EPA’s factual basis contained in the economic analysis provides adequate support for EPA’s certification that the rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.

Individual comments

While most individual comments the Advisor reviewed hailed the proposed amendments and called for more and stronger changes, some individual commenters want no changes to the WPS. For instance, a number of professional foresters commented strongly that the EPA should not change the current WPS. The proposed changes that are most onerous to foresters are:

  • Changing the WPS training requirement from every 5 years to every year,
  • Licensed Pesticide Applicators would no longer be considered approved WPS trainers, and
  • Expansion of the Restricted Entry Interval (REI) buffer areas around applications, which would unnecessarily restrict other operations, such as logging or road building that are adjacent to, but not in, the treated area.

According to foresters who commented, this will create a large financial hardship by shutting down these work areas for the length of the REI without increasing worker safety.

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