New pesticide regulations issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mean state regulations will need to change to harmonize with the federal rules—but in California, observers expect those changes to be relatively minor.
The EPA announced revised Agricultural Worker Protection Standard regulations in what it described as an effort to reduce risks of injury and illness for agricultural workers and chemical handlers who use and come into contact with the products at farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses.
The federal regulations will take effect in 14 months, revising rules originally issued in 1992. But many of the regulations already apply in California.
Bryan Little, California Farm Bureau Federation director of employment policy and chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service, monitored development of the original EPA rules and later revisions when he was employed by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“When I came to California a few years ago, I found that we already had regulations on the books that went way beyond the federal standards,” Little said. “What has happened is that the current administration in Washington, D.C., has decided to beef up the federal standards. In the process, the EPA has made the new federal standards very similar to the California standard and the Washington state standard, which is similar to ours.”
Little said that during an initial review of the new federal regulations, he saw at least two areas where differences exist with rules already enforced by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
One relates to training of farm employees on working with and around agricultural chemicals. The current federal regulation requires training every five years; the new regulation changes that to one year.
“In California, the training is generally done every year anyway, because it is much easier that way,” Little said.
The other change relates to the minimum age of employees who work with or around agricultural chemicals. For years in California, a handler or applicator had to be 18 years of age. The new federal regulation requires a minimum age of 18 not just for handlers and applicators, but also for employees who perform what is called early-entry work in a treated area. Every agricultural chemical has what is called a re-entry interval before people are allowed to re-enter a field.
“There are times when it is necessary for people to go into the field to perform tasks like moving irrigation pipe, checking drip irrigation nozzles and so on, and there are specific requirements that workers wear appropriate protective equipment,” Little said. “We will have to make sure that we have a minimum age of 18 for early-entry workers as well as handlers and applicators.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said it is reviewing the final revisions to the EPA regulations, in hopes that the agency adhered to a science-based approach in guarding against risk, according to Paul Schlegel, AFBF director of environment and energy policy.
“Farmers and ranchers are committed to the safe and effective use of all crop protection tools, and Farm Bureau agrees that chemicals should be handled with care, whether to protect a small home garden or rows of crops on commercial farmland,” Schlegel said. “Farm Bureau shares the agency’s desire to protect workers, but we are concerned that the agency is piling regulatory costs on farmers and ranchers that bear little if any relation to actual safety issues.”
AFBF filed extensive comments on the proposal more than a year ago, and Schlegel said that both then and now, EPA could not justify the regulation it was proposing.
“We are hopeful the agency’s final rule will reflect our concerns and protect farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to promote a safe, productive environment,” Schlegel said.
Members of a farm owner’s immediate family are exempt from most requirements of the EPA regulations, and the agency said it expanded the definition of “immediate family” to include in-laws, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and first cousins.
Other specifics of the new EPA regulations include:
- There is no grace period for training; an employee must be trained before working in an area where pesticides had been used or a restricted-entry interval has been in effect during the previous 30 days.
- Trainers must be certified applicators, state/tribal/federal-approved trainers and persons who have completed an EPA-approved train-the-trainer course.
- Records of training must be kept for two years and a copy given to employees and handlers on their request.
- Safety data sheets and application information must be displayed at a central location within 24 hours of the end of application and before employees enter treated areas. Both need to be displayed for 30 days after the restricted-entry interval expires.
- Safety data sheets and application information must be kept for two years from the end of the restricted-entry interval and made available for employees, handlers, designated representatives or medical personnel upon request.
- Warning signs must be posted if the restricted-entry interval is greater than 48 hours for an outdoor application or four hours for an enclosed-space application.
- For outdoor production, no entry is allowed into the treated area or the application exclusion zone (up to 100 feet around the application equipment) during pesticide applications.
- Handlers must apply pesticides so as not to contact employees or other persons; application must be suspended if employees or others enter the application exclusion zone.
- Pesticide safety information must be posted at a central location as well as where decontamination supplies are located.
- Personal protective equipment must be consistent with U.S. Department of Labor standards for ensuring respirators are effective, including fit test, medical evaluation and training.
- Specific amounts of water must be used for routine washing, emergency eye flushing and other decontamination, including eye wash systems for handlers at pesticide mixing/loading sites.
Permission for use is granted from the California Farm Bureau Federation. Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.