EPA rejects request to delay pesticide safety rule

By Stephen Davies

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2016 - EPA's farmworker protection rule will go into effect Jan. 2 as scheduled, the agency said today.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) petitioned EPA last week to delay implementation by a year. EPA said it would respond officially to the petition in the new year.

The groups said EPA had failed to provide state lead agencies, or SLA's, with needed training materials and guidance, and had not properly alerted Congress to the presence of the “designated representative” provision in the rule.

That provision allows farmworkers to choose a third party to receive pesticide use records from a farm. Farm groups and their members are worried that anti-pesticide groups could gain access to the records and “make it seem as if (the farmers) are doing something illegal,” said Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy at AFBF.

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Dudley Hoskins, public policy counsel at NASDA, said that “the materials and resources that states need to facilitate implementation and do outreach just aren't there.”

The rule includes a host of new requirements to protect the nation's 2 million farmworkers, including annual training (instead of every five years) for the workers themselves; mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides; and new no-entry “application exclusion zones” of up to 100 feet to protect workers from spray drift.

At its annual meeting in September, NASDA approved an “action item” urging EPA to delay implementation until the 43 states that have authority to implement pesticide laws have adequate resources to do so. The petition, AFBF's Schlegel said, was basically a “last-ditch effort to get any sort of relief.”

But Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and ecological health at Farmworker Justice, said she was “bewildered” by the petition, given the long history behind the rule, which was published in November 2015.

“They're not drastic changes,” she said, calling the rule “a step in the right direction to making the agricultural workplace safer.”

She said it's important for workers, who often do not speak English and are afraid that asking for information might threaten their employment, to be able to designate someone else to receive pesticide use information.

“Workers have the right to access that information already,” she said. “We've seen a couple of cases where workers were impeded in accessing important exposure information that would have helped them get medical treatment.”

Schlegel, however, said AFBF supports the right of health care providers to have access to information. “That's dealt with in a separate part of the regulation,” he said. “We've never contested that.”

Instead, he said, AFBF objects to third parties gaining access to records that “they can do whatever they want with” and do not have to share with the workers.

He said AFBF also is unsure about farmers' legal obligations to provide information when workers use falsified documents to gain employment. “Is the farmer legally obliged to surrender those records?” he asked, saying AFBF has not gotten an adequate response to that question from EPA.

Ruiz also questioned the farm groups' request for a delay by pointing out that EPA had awarded NASDA's research foundation a pesticide safety grant but that the foundation “refused to accept it.”

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NASDA CEO Barbara Glenn said the research foundation (NASDARF) made a “business decision” in May to reject two cooperative agreements regarding pesticide safety - one to coordinate meetings and workshops and the second to distribute funding to train applicators.

The foundation's board decided that accepting the awards “wasn't in NASDARF's best interests,” she said.

Schlegel said he “suspects” the new administration will have the flexibility to extend the rule's deadlines but that he is not optimistic about the chances of that happening.

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