Public comments may be closed on EPA's worker protection plan for pesticide exposure, but the American Farm Bureau remains concerned that the EPA has failed to provide tangible benefits from the proposal beyond what current pesticide rules provide.
The Agricultural Worker Protection Standard proposal, announced in February, updates the 1992 Worker Protection Standard. It provides new guidelines for farmworker training and education on pesticide safety, requirements for retaining training and pesticide use records, expanded buffer zones after pesticide application and age limits for pesticide handling.
Comments on the proposal closed Aug. 18 after a 90-day comment period and 60-day extension. In its official comments as submitted to the Federal Register, AFBF said:
"As a whole, however, the proposal would impose a long list of additional legal burdens on employers; add numerous workplace obligations; measurably increase paperwork burdens; unnecessarily expose growers to legal liability to third parties; impose added cost burdens for no identifiable benefit; and demand complicated and valueless changes in farm operations. These defects in the proposal are counter-balanced – purportedly – by a virtually non-existent set of benefits or increased protections."
AFBF's Director of Environment and Energy Policy Paul Schlegel on Tuesday explained that the position of the organization rides on the idea that the added regulations do not go beyond that of regulations that are already in existence.
"If they can’t even say 'here’s why you need to do this,' we think that shows the rule may be working pretty well as it is," Schlegel said in an AFBF interview. "We’re not trying to cut corners at all. We just want to make sure that if there are obligations that are imposed on farmers to protect workers that clearly it shows a demonstrated ability to protect a worker and it’s not unnecessarily burdensome to a farmer."
Schlegel said one provision in the proposal that allows "authorized representatives" to request to see a farmer's pesticide records is especially concerning, because it only requires an oral designation.
"An authorized representative could present themselves at a farmer’s gate and say one of your workers has authorized me to get on his behalf the records you are required to keep, and he doesn’t have to prove that," Schlegel said.
Other groups, including CropLife America, a group representing crop protection product manufacturers, also said the proposal does "little to improve worker safety beyond the current standard."
"The significant advances in science, regulatory requirements and technology used to apply pesticides over the last 20 years are not referenced at all in the proposed revisions," CLA's statement read. "The significant added cost burden imposed by these revisions could be reduced by focusing on the gaps in the implementation of the current [Worker Protection Standard], rather than by adding layers of bureaucracy and prescription."
Despite the pushback, a group of House members including Ag Committee members Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif., John Garamendi, D-Calif., Juan Vargas, D-Calif., Filemon Vela, D-Texas, Jim McGovern, D-Mass., signed on to a letter last month encouraging EPA to continue with the regulation, but include several other safeguards.
According to the letter, the House members requested additional and/or stricter safeguards than those proposed, including mandated quicker medical assistance in the event of an emergency situation and additional medical monitoring for neurotoxic pesticide handlers.
The final proposal is expected next year, Schlegel said.