Huge Fine for Pesticide Worker Safety Violations

A global chemical and seed manufacturer was recently fined millions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violations of several rules related to pesticides, including the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Today we’ll look at how this company ran afoul of its responsibilities when it comes to what the EPA considers the most dangerous pesticides: restricted use pesticides (RUPs). Tomorrow we will review amendments to the regulations for RUP applications that could affect over 1 million applicators nationwide.

Syngenta Seeds, LLC, faces over $4.8 million in fines for pesticide violations at its crop research farm in Kekaha, Kauai, Hawaii.

What the RUP!

According to the EPA, 19 workers entered a Syngenta field that was recently sprayed with a restricted use organophosphate insecticide. Ten of these workers were taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment. RUPs, which may only be used by licensed and certified pesticide applicators, may not be sold to the general public because of their high toxicity, potential for harm, and impact on the environment.

Here’s What Happened

The pesticide in question was Lorsban Advanced, a RUP registered with the EPA. It may only be used in accordance with the instructions on its label and the WPS. Under its use requirements, workers may not reenter treated areas without personal protective equipment (PPE) during the restricted entry interval (REI). The REI for Lorsban Advance is 24 hours.

The EPA alleges that Syngenta:

  • Failed to notify its workers, both orally and with signs, to avoid fields recently treated with pesticides;
  • Allowed or directed workers to enter the treated field before REI had passed and without proper PPE;
  • Failed to provide water for routine and emergency eyeflushing;
  • Failed to provide adequate decontamination supplies on-site; and
  • Failed to provide prompt transportation for emergency medical attention.

In all, there are 261 counts in EPA’s complaint. The proposed penalty is $18,750 per count for a total of almost $4.9 million.

Inspector Walking Around

An inspector from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture just happened to be at the Syngenta facility when the incident occurred, prompting an immediate investigation. She was there to investigate a prior complaint. Among other violations, she saw workers smoking cigarettes and drinking beverages before they had been decontaminated, so she immediately took photographs and documented what she observed. She also conducted follow-up investigations during which she took statements from workers. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture then formally referred the investigation of suspected WPS violations to the EPA.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we will review EPA’s new amendments for applying RUPs. Are you among the 1 million applicators who will be affected?

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