EPA plans to take another look at minimum age requirements in two pesticide safety rules after they go into effect next year, which could make it more difficult to get a pesticide funding bill passed in Congress.
In the meantime, the agency plans to allow the rules, which were delayed in May, to move forward with no change in compliance deadlines. The regulations are the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard rule (WPS), whose purpose is to protect the 2 million-plus farmworkers in the U.S. from pesticide exposure, and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, which will require states to implement training programs for applicators of restricted-use pesticides.
Both rules have minimum age requirements of 18, with exemptions for family members. At a Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee meeting in November, PPDC members seemed to be in broad agreement that the minimum age requirements were necessary and justified.
Yet in a Dec. 18 letter to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Charlotte Bertrand, EPA’s acting principal deputy assistant administrator, said that “While PPDC stakeholders advised the agency that, for the most part, they are able to implement this provision as promulgated in the (WPS rule), there was agreement that the ‘family exemption’ provision was not flexible enough to accommodate family-owned and operated businesses of commercial applicators.”
And in the CPA rule, Bertrand said “the minimum age provision does not provide flexibility for other common practices in rural communities, such as the hands-on agricultural education young people receive via 4-H and other organizational activities.”
Udall has put a hold on a bill to reauthorize the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), which imposes fees on pesticide registrants to generate about one-third of the funding for the Office of Pesticide Programs. The bill has passed the full House and the Senate Agriculture Committee, but has been stalled in the Senate since July, when Udall placed his hold.
Udall, joined by three other Democrats, wants EPA to move forward with the WPS and CPA regulations without weakening them. But they also want the agency to respond to concerns about chlorpyrifos (trade name: Lorsban), an insecticide that was on its way to being phased out when EPA reversed course in March, allowing the chemical to be used until 2022.
EPA originally said there was enough evidence to conclude that exposure to chlorpyrifos “results in adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in humans, at least under some conditions,” according to the agency’s proposal to revoke food tolerances for the insecticide.
Bertrand’s letter, which addressed in more detail the reasons for EPA’s decision to reopen the rules, did not satisfy Udall. In a statement provided to Agri-Pulse, Udall said:
“I haven’t yet heard a reasonable answer from the EPA about my request that the agency respond to my concerns, which are simple – I will lift my hold on PRIA if the EPA agrees to respond to objections that have been filed about its decision not to ban the dangerous pesticide chrlopyrifos, and agrees to protect rules that prevent children – who are as young as elementary school age -- from being exposed to dangerous pesticides and that allow farmworkers to have access to safety information about the pesticides they are handling.”
The agency, he said, has repeatedly told him it does not have the resources to address the objections to its chlorpyrifos decision. “But as this letter details, they have chosen to undergo an expensive and labor-intensive rewriting of crucial aspects of these worker protection rules. If Administrator (Scott) Pruitt were dedicated to the EPA’s public safety responsibilities, he would leave the worker protection rules in place and move forward with the agency’s own scientists’ recommendations” to ban chlorpyrifos.
The senator also questioned Bertrand’s characterization of the PDDC meeting, which was attended by his staff.
“The account in the letter is inaccurate at best,” Udall said. “In fact, the number of inaccuracies in this letter are unsettling, and do not give me any confidence that the EPA is approaching this issue with good faith.”
The senator asked EPA to explain when in the meeting there was talk of “letting states determine a minimum age for agricultural handlers that meets the needs of the local rural economy,” as Bertrand said. “There was consensus from stakeholders that the minimum age for pesticide application should be 18,” Udall said. “Similarly, there was no discussion of flexibility for commercial applicators or of ‘neutral representatives.’ ”
The reference to “representatives” concerns a provision in the WPS rule that would allow farmworkers to use “designated representatives” to obtain information about pesticide applications. Some farm groups are worried that the information could be used against them in some way.
In her letter, Bertrand said that PPDC members had “encouraged the EPA to consider identifying a neutral representative. A neutral representative could ensure meaningful assistance to the farm worker community and address agricultural producers’ concerns.”
In addition to looking at the WPS rule’s minimum age requirement, EPA plans to review the designated rep provision and another requirement that prohibits spraying within “application exclusion zones.” Producers in some states, however, are pushing EPA to allow workers to stay in their housing until the application is complete.
Oregon, for example, is considering adopting such “shelter in place” regulations.
In his statement, Udall also said he was “very disturbed that the EPA will delay publishing pesticide safety training materials (for the WPS) until after the rulemaking process is completed. The EPA contends that they are not delaying implementation dates, but safety training cannot commence without this information. The information includes guidelines that keep workers safe from hazardous chemicals – which are known to cause serious illness -- including the possible danger to themselves and their family members from pesticide residue on hair, shoes and clothing; steps that employers must take to ensure a safe workplace; and how to report safety violations to the state or Tribal enforcement agency.
The WPS rule, which was published in late 2015, is scheduled to take full effect Jan. 2, 2018, although many of its provisions went into effect at the beginning of this year. EPA delayed the effective date of the CPA rule from Jan. 4, 2017, to May 22, 2018, after state regulators expressed concern they did not have enough time to develop certification and training plans.
The agency announced its intentions last week, followed by a Federal Register notice Tuesday on the CPA rule. EPA also prepared a notice on its plans for the WPS rule. In both cases, EPA said it would publish proposed rules with potential changes by the end of fiscal 2018 (Sept. 30, 2018).
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