Coalition Demands Sensible Protections Against Pesticides

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken steps to weaken and remove important protections against exposure of farmworkers, their children and their communities to pesticides that can cause serious injury, illness and even death.  A broad-based coalition is mobilizing to defeat these policy changes.

Two and a half years ago, we were applauding the U.S. EPA for finalizing revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), regulations that protect farmworkers and their families from exposure to pesticides.   The revised WPS includes common sense safety measures such as annual worker safety training, direct and timely access to information about pesticides used in the workplace, protection from drifting pesticides, anti-retaliation protections, emergency medical assistance, and the prohibition of children from handling pesticides.

Similarly, in January 2017, the EPA issued final revisions to its Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule. This was the most significant revision of the rule since its initial implementation over 40 years ago. The CPA rule governs the licensing and training requirements for workers who apply restricted use pesticides (RUPs), in settings such as homes, schools, hospitals, farms and industrial establishments. RUPs are some of the most toxic and dangerous pesticides on the market. The revisions improve applicator competency standards, establish a minimum age of 18 for pesticide applicators, require adequate training and supervision of non-certified pesticide applicators, and improve the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that they apply.

The EPA revised the WPS and CPA rule after decades of engagement by diverse stakeholders, including farmworkers, employers, public health advocates and state agencies. EPA’s stated goal in implementing the revised rules was to prevent injury, illness and death to the men, women and children who work around pesticides in agriculture, or who come into contact with pesticides in other settings. Farmworkers are routinely exposed to high levels of pesticides in the fields where they work and in the communities where they live.  

However, under Administrator Scott Pruitt, and in response to demands from agribusiness groups, EPA recently announced that it will begin a new rule-making process to roll back important parts of these rules. The key WPS provisions under threat include the minimum age of 18 for handling pesticides, the right to a representative who can access pesticide exposure information, and safety measures to prevent exposure to bystanders during pesticide applications.1 The EPA also announced plans to reconsider the minimum age provisions in the CPA rule.2

Rewriting rules to make it easier to expose children to toxic pesticides is unjustifiable. However, EPA is currently drafting such a proposed rule and expects to publish it for public comment by the end of the summer.

In the meantime, Farmworker Justice in coalition with many organizations is taking action to oppose these dangerous plans. On March 31st, the final day of National Farmworker Awareness Week and the birthday of Cesar Chavez, Farmworker Justice sent a letter to Administrator Pruitt on behalf of a coalition of 127 organizations representing children, faith communities, agriculture, health, labor, human rights and environmental advocates. The coalition opposes weakening worker protections and urges EPA to move forward with full implementation and enforcement of the existing WPS and CPA rule.

We and our many partners are educating the public, litigating against the EPA in court, and assisting farmworker organizations to advocate for sensible pesticide safety standards.

1. Environmental Protection Agency; Pesticides; Pesticides; Agricultural Worker Protection Standard; Reconsideration of Several Requirements and Notice About Compliance Dates; 82 Fed. Reg. 60576 (Dec. 21, 2017).

2. Environmental Protection Agency; Pesticides; Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule; Reconsideration of the Minimum Age Requirements; 82 Fed. Reg. 60195 (Dec. 19, 2017).