A new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule proposal would shrink enforcement responsibilities for farmers by narrowing the areas they must restrict human contact during pesticide applications, a move the agency is labelling easier management.
The rule announced Thursday shrinks enforcement of the boundaries established under the Application Exclusion Zone to just within farm owner property. The previous statute extended the exclusion zone to areas outside the farm, where workers and others might come into close proximity to the process and equipment used to spread pesticides.
The new proposal would also no longer mandate family members living on farms to leave during pesticide application times. Instead they can choose whether to voluntarily leave or stay on any homes or in any structures on the farm land.
EPA head Andrew Wheeler called the rule changes more “effective and easier to implement.”
“In listening to input from stakeholders, our proposal will make targeted updates, maintaining safety requirements to protect the health of those in farm country, while providing greater flexibility for farmers,” he said in a statement Thursday.
Critics argue the rule significantly shrinks worker and family protections established under the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS), by allowing more chances of contact with often harmful and cancer-linked chemicals and pesticides.
“The EPA continues to betray farmworkers and the recommendations agreed to by stakeholders, including industry government and farmworkers, in meetings held over two decades by weakening the measures urgently needed to protect farm workers and their loved ones,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Farm workers and their families continue to be poisoned by pesticides, and if anything, the WPS must be strengthened, not weakened.”
Burd argued the new changes would largely benefit farm owners at the expense of farm hands who work in close proximity to the chemicals.
“Over and over, the concerns of farm owners are represented, echoing that they appreciate not being bound by burdensome rules. But they don’t have any farm worker voices stating how these rules will affect them,” she said of EPA’s press release on the rule.
Iris Figueroa, attorney at Farmworker Justice, said the rule would expressly shrink large chunks of the measures established in the exclusion zone rule, which went into effect in January 2017.
“The bottom line is that it threatens to increase exposure to toxic pesticide drift, reverting back to the pre-AEZ era where EPA and others recognized that off-target drift was a significant public health problem and that simply requiring no contact was not sufficient,” Figueroa said.
The Trump administration has weathered several instances of criticism related to pesticide regulations. In July, the EPA expanded the use of pesticide considered “very highly toxic” to bees. That same month the agency announced it would not halt Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked with brain damage from being sprayed on crops. Starting next year, the state of California will ban the chemical entirely.