The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has updated the “worker protection standard” to protect farm workers from pesticide poisoning. According to the agency, 10,000 to 20,000 workers are sickened by pesticides each year, with many more experiencing less serious reactions.
According to the EPA:
The regulation seeks to protect and reduce the risks of injury or illness resulting from agricultural workers’ (those who perform hand-labor tasks in pesticide-treated crops, such as harvesting, thinning, pruning) and pesticide handlers’ (those who mix, load and apply pesticides) use and contact with pesticides on farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses. The regulation does not cover persons working with livestock.
The updated guidelines, which originally went into effect in 1992, contain a number of new rules to meet this goal. For example, employers must train workers annually on pesticide safety, rather than every five years as the rule formerly specified. Farmers won't be allowed near recently sprayed fields until the pesticide residues have declined to safe levels, and children under 18 years old will not be able to handle pesticides under any circumstances. Farmers will also have to track where and when certain pesticides have been used, according to NPR.
"Primarily there's been a lot of research done of late on the brains of our children and how they develop," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said to NBC News, adding that if there are so many other laws on the books that go to 18 for hazardous work conditions, "there's nothing we think deserves closer scrutiny and attention than the handling of pesticides."
The updates have been welcomed by farm worker advocates. "We've been fighting for more than 20 years for some of these improvements," Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice said to NPR.
However, the new regulations are still more lenient than those in states like California and Washington, according to a report on NPR:
[T]he new rules do not go as far as some had hoped. They do not, for instance, require routine medical monitoring of workers who specialize in applying the most dangerous pesticides. Both California and Washington require such monitoring, and these programs have identified workers who had been been exposed to pesticides and were at risk for developing more serious health problems. The EPA, however, decided that requiring such monitoring across the nation would cost too much.
The regulations are set to go into effect in the next 14 months.
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Farm worker image via Shuttershock