WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency is strengthening 20-year-old rules designed to protect farmworkers from toxic pesticides.
New rules announced by the EPA on Monday will bar almost anyone under 18 from handling pesticides and require buffer zones around fields to protect workers from drift and fumes. Farm owners and their immediate families would be exempt from the rules.
Under the new standards, workers would have to be trained annually on pesticide risk. Currently they only have to be trained every five years. Farms would also be required to post no-entry signs when the most toxic pesticides are applied.
The EPA says that between 1,800 and 3,000 cases of pesticide exposure are reported each year at farms, nurseries and other agricultural operations covered by the current standards. The EPA has said those rules aren’t working and that many cases of exposure aren’t reported.
The agency says that fewer of these incidents would mean healthier workers and fewer lost wages, medical bills and work absences. EPA also said it is concerned about low-level, repetitive exposure to pesticides that could contribute to chronic illness.
Farmworkers are unique in that many of the workplace protection standards issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for other industries do not apply to them. Many farmworkers are migrants who move from farm to farm, making it difficult to track health problems from pesticide exposure that can develop over time.