New EPA Regulations Put Much-Needed Safety Measures on Pesticide Use

Photo by Michael D. Heckman. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Michael D. Heckman. Some rights reserved.

Late last week, the EPA released a pre-publication copy of a Federal Register proposed rule increasing safety measures surrounding pesticide use by agricultural workers and farmers. The new standards would impose new restrictions and requirements in an effort to better protect America’s 2-million strong agricultural workforce. Seems like a good time to do so – the last time the standards were updated was 1992, and obviously a lot has changed, agricultural-technology wise and everything-else wise, in the last two decades. As it stands, 12,000 workers are afflicted with acute pesticide poisoning in the U.S. every year, and it’s been suggested that this figure is actually a very conservative estimate, as cases of poisoning go extremely under-reported.

The new protocol as set forth in the EPA’s proposed rule will require a yearly training course on pesticide use and safety for all agricultural workers (the old standards required these only every five years), which seems like a no brainer. They also require farms that use pesticides to construct “buffer zones” around the area where pesticides are used to protect those nearby from drifting toxins, and for No Entry signs to be put up in these areas. So far so good! Perhaps the most significant restriction imposed by the new rules is that agricultural workers must now be 16 years of age or older to work on a farm that uses pesticides (family farms being the exception). Of course, this may also be the hardest component of the rule to implement, without creating some sort of expensive task force to go farm to farm and enforce it.

The rules will now enter a 90-day comment period following their publication in the Federal Register. The EPA hopes to publish the final rule by next year.

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