EPA open to ‘constructive criticism’ on pesticide rule, group says

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014 -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems ready and willing to hear “constructive criticism” on the proposed update to its Agricultural Worker Protection Standards, the head of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officers (AAPCO) told Agri-Pulse in an interview. EPA has not updated the standards since 1992.

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AAPCO's Tim Drake says the group met with other agricultural stakeholders and EPA officials last week. The officials “did a real good job of going through line by line explaining the justifications” for the proposed changes, he said.

“It was a good session,” said Drake, who is also the state programs manager in Clemson University's Department of Pesticide Regulation. “The feeling that I got coming out of that meeting is that EPA is going to be open to constructive criticism [for] their proposals.”

AAPCO plans to join the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), CropLife America and other groups that have requested a 90-day extension on the comment period for the pesticide revisions, which currently closes June 17. An extension would give groups until mid-September 2014.

Though EPA officials were not permitted to tell meeting participants whether they favored the extension, Drake said he feels “confident” the agency will give stakeholders the extra time.

The updates would affect producers in a number of ways: Farmers will have to post signs in treated areas with restricted entry of over 48 hours; retain training records for two years; and institute annual mandatory training, instead of every five years, as is the current requirement.

Drake was not able to elaborate on AAPCO's specific issues with the proposed regulations, as not all state regulators have had time to send their comments to the group's leadership. He did say, however, that groups endorsed proposed rules prohibiting 16-year-olds from handling and working around just-applied pesticides.

AAPCO is also in favor of the EPA's more specific definition of its “immediate family,” exemption, which will allow farm families to take part in all aspects of pesticide application. “Immediate family” now includes “only spouse, parents, stepparents, foster parents, father-in-law, mother-in-law, children, stepchildren, foster children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law; grandparents, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, and sisters-in-law.”

EPA estimates the changes will save $5 million to $14 million in health care and “loss of productivity” costs for both farm operators and farmworkers, and will cost industry $62 to $73 million per year.

But according to some in the agriculture industry, those numbers are skewed. Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, told Agri-Pulse in February that the agency's numbers are based on estimates that pesticide poisoning is underreported by 25 percent. Though EPA has called that approximation “conservative,” Vroom called them “numeric assumptions” and said the agency had made an “unfortunate decision” in choosing the figure. CropLife America “will specifically be able to address (the number of underreported pesticide poisonings) with actual data that's available elsewhere in the public domain,” he said.

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