WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2017 – A stalled farmworker protection rule appears to be closer to moving forward following a spirited discussion at an EPA advisory committee meeting Thursday.
The Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC) spent more than two hours discussing three specific aspects of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) rule, which the Environmental Protection Agency said in May would be delayed until adequate training materials were available.
Some of the rule’s provisions became effective Jan. 1, 2017, with the rest scheduled to go into effect Jan. 2, 2018, but when it delayed the rule’s implementation in May at the request of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, EPA did not provide a date certain when the rule would go into effect. (One member of the PPDC said the rule was “in limbo.”)
At the meeting, Kevin Keaney, a branch chief in OPP’s Field and External Affairs Division, said EPA still needs to publish a Federal Register notice saying that the materials are now available, but he did not know when the notice would be published.
However, there are still concerns in the farming community about the rule, particularly the “designated representative” provision, which allows workers exposed to pesticides to designate someone to request information on the chemicals and when and where they were applied.
Some on the panel expressed concern that the information obtained by the designated representative could somehow be used against the farmer, a notion that was dismissed by farmworker protection advocates.
Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, said it was his understanding that some groups had expressed concerns that designated representatives might be able to use the information they get with “potential ill intent.”
“There’s a lot of competition among farmers,” said Vroom, who has a family operation himself in Illinois. Information gleaned by a worker’s representative “could be advantageous to competing farming interests.”
Iris Figueroa, a staff attorney with Farmworker Justice, said states with large populations of farmworkers such as California and Florida have implemented similar provisions without any problems.
“Workers are very hesitant to report any incidents,” she said. “It’s important to make it easier for them, not harder for them to … get treatment and any type of relief they need,” she said.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture sought to delay the rule’s implementation earlier this year, arguing that the designated representative provision “exceeds the scope of the WPS rule by depriving farmers of reasonable expectation of privacy for confidential business information.” The provision, they said, “subjects farmers to potential harassment and public criticisms for lawful use of EPA-approved pesticides.”
Vroom, however, said he thought it would be easy to sit down and hammer out an agreement on designated representative language.
“It seems to me that there’s close to universal consensus from around this table that this is a good idea,” he said. “Maybe just a few little details around the definition of who can qualify as a designated would allow you to close this deal.”
Rick Keigwin, director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, said he heard “widespread support across our committee that workers should be able to have access to this information,” and that OPP would consider formation of a “short-term work group” to work through the issues to see whether any clarification is needed. The American Association of Pesticide Control Officials could help by looking at states with similar provisions “to find out how operationally this provision has been utilized, and what if any concerns have come up.”
The other aspects of the rule that were discussed were the minimum age requirement of 18 years old for workers handling pesticides, and the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ), which refers to the area around pesticide applications that must be free of people.
No one objected to the minimum age requirement, which does not apply to family members. Keigwin said, however, that additional guidance on the AEZ “could be useful.”
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