The Environmental Protection Agency has narrowed a rule to protect individuals from pesticide spraying by establishing one 25-foot “Application Exclusion Zone” for all ground spray applications and limiting AEZ’s to the boundaries of the agricultural establishment.

The agency also will exempt farm owners and family members from requirements to stay out of the spray area so long as they shelter in place during pesticide applications. An AEZ is an area where workers and other individuals cannot be when outdoor pesticide spraying is taking place.

The agency said it was making the changes, which had been opposed by farmworker advocacy organizations and some state attorneys general, to “clarify and simplify” the requirements, which some state regulatory agencies had said were difficult to enforce.

Farmworker Justice, which had expressed concerns about the proposal, said it could not immediately respond to the rule but would have a statement "soon."

"The changes to the AEZ requirements make it easier to ensure people near our nation’s farms are protected, while simultaneously enhancing the workability of these provisions for farm owners and protecting the environment," he said in a news release. The rule was published in Friday’s Federal Register. 

EPA also said it would allow applications that have been suspended to resume after individuals have left an AEZ, and would not require ag employers and handlers to abide by the requirement to suspend applications because non-employees “are in an area subject to an easement that prevents the agricultural employer from temporarily excluding those persons from that area.”

“The AEZ will be 25 feet in all directions for ground pesticide applications when sprayed from a height greater than 12 inches, and 100 feet in all directions for outdoor aerial, air blast, air-propelled, fumigant, smoke, mist and fog pesticide applications,” EPA said in a “Pesticide Program Update” issued Thursday.

A 2015 rule originally based the need for a 25-foot or 100-foot exclusion zone on spray quality and droplet size, with a 100-foot AEZ for ground applications of pesticides “with fine or very fine droplet size.”

In its rule, EPA said it “considered the recommendation by several public commenters to simplify the AEZ by establishing a 100-foot AEZ for all ground spray applications above 12 inches.”

Although the agency agreed that would simplify matters, “EPA believes that the potential costs and burdens for establishment owners to move workers who are within 100 feet of all ground spray applications would be disproportionate to the benefits, particularly when making applications using a medium or larger spray quality.”

“EPA agrees that sprays may drift greater than 25 feet and smaller droplet sizes increase the drift potential,” it said, but added that “in addition to spray droplet size, numerous factors impact the potential for spray drift, including application method, wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity, nozzle release height, pesticide formulation, terrain and target crop.

Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse West.

“The agency’s efforts, however, are to develop a simplified approach that is easier to understand and implement while still providing necessary guidance on how to comply with the overarching ‘Do Not Contact’ requirement” contained in its Worker Protection Standard, EPA said.

EPA frequently cited that requirement in maintaining that workers and others would be adequately protected.

“Several farmworker advocacy groups, former pesticide regulators, and the State AGs’ letter argue that the ‘Do Not Contact’ provision has a history of shortcomings and despite the clear prohibition against spraying pesticides so as to contact workers or bystanders, EPA updated the WPS precisely because contact was still occurring,” the agency noted in its rule.

“Consistent with both agricultural pesticide labels and the WPS since 1994, the handler employer and the handler must ensure that no pesticide is applied so as to contact, directly or through drift, any worker or other person, other than appropriately trained and equipped handlers involved in the application,” EPA’s new rule said.

EPA said its revisions to the WPS are “in the spirit” of a 2017 Executive Order, “Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America,” whose intent “was to help ensure that regulatory burdens do not unnecessarily encumber agricultural production or harm rural communities.”

Responding to environmental justice concerns raised by commenters, EPA said, “If agricultural pesticide products are used according to their labeling, EPA does not expect there to be unreasonable adverse effects to children, EJ communities, or anyone else.”

For more news, go to