Long-Overdue EPA Pesticide Regulations Fail to Fully Protect Farmworkers
Ushering in what it called “milestone” changes to better protect the nation’s farmworkers from pesticides, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lask week proposed a slate of updates to its agricultural Worker Protection Standard.
The enhanced protections come 22 years after the EPA last revised the rules intended to safeguard the nation’s 2 million farmworkers from pesticides’ perils. Among other steps, the new rules would increase the frequency of mandatory pesticide training from every five years to every year, and include no-entry buffer zones to shield workers from spray and fumes.
“EPA’s proposal aims to pull farm workers up toward the same level of protection from environmental and health hazards that other professions have had for decades,” Gina McCarthy, the agency’s administrator, wrote in a blog post, A Step Forward: Protecting America’s Farmworkers.
Farmworker advocates agree the proposal represents a step forward.
But the long-overdue update falls short of the more sweeping changes advocates envisioned. It fails, for instance, to require medical monitoring of applicators handling toxic chemicals; sets 16, not 18, as a minimum age for those handling pesticides; and eliminates a requirement that growers display in a central location information on pesticides being applied.
“As expected, there are some genuine improvements, but also at least one big step backward … and some real lost opportunities, especially when it comes to protections for pesticide handlers, and most especially teen pesticide handlers,” Eve C. Gartner, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, wrote The Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
In 2012, CPI explored the EPA’s thin layer of protection for farmworkers, describing how pesticides can endanger laborers, but no one knows the full scope of the environmental perils in the fields.
Now, advocates say, the proposed upgrades fail to fully close the safety gap.
For instance, Gartner and others note, the proposed rule would ban children under 16 from handling pesticides, with an exemption for family farms. The EPA lauds that first-ever minimum age requirement as a step forward. But farmworkers and their advocates had pushed for the minimum age to be set to 18.
The new age limit “is better than nothing but I don’t see justification for wanting to expose 16- and 17-year-olds,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health for Farmworker Justice.“Why you would want somebody that young applying chemicals in the workplace is beyond me.”
Setting the minimum age at 18 would mean higher costs for the industry, the EPA said.
“EPA estimates that requiring handlers to be at least 18 years old would cost about $3.1 million annually, or $11 per agricultural establishment and $320 per commercial pesticide handling establishment per year,” the proposed rule says.
Like others who have long pushed the EPA to revise the Worker Protection Standard, Ruiz is heartened that some substantive changes finally came. But, overall, she called the proposal a “mixed bag.”
Another area advocates question: that the EPA would eliminate a requirement that growers centrally post information about pesticides.
The posting requirement, the EPA said, has become the single most frequently cited area of non-compliance with the Worker Protection Standard. Industry and regulators have challenged it, the agency said.
“Keeping the information current at the central location has been problematic for agricultural employers, as records of frequent pesticide applications on an establishment with multiple crops can be difficult to maintain accurately during the growing season,” the EPA wrote.
“Most workers,” the proposed rules say, “do not routinely pass the central posting area because their workplace is at a different part of the establishment. The proposed change would continue to make available at a designated location pesticide application information for workers and handlers. Rather than continue a requirement that burdens employers without clear benefits to workers and handlers, EPA has decided to revise the requirement.”
To the farmworker community, this is a change for the worse. With a central posting place, they say, farmworkers know there is a spot they can turn for information. But now, they say, the burden will fall on farmworkers—many of them working in the shadows—to actively seek out that information.
“It’s going to be the very rare farmworker who’s going to have the courage to ask for that information,” said Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project coordinator Jeannie Economos for the Farmworker Association of Florida.
More than half of the employees at the association, Economos said, are former farmworkers.
The EPA’ rationales for cutting the central posting requirement and putting the minimum age to 16 are both “illuminating and disturbing,” Gartner said.
Farmworkers advocates also pushed the EPA to require medical monitoring of applicators who handle toxic pesticides, following the leads of California and Washington. That is not happening, either.
“Those programs have been around for many years, to much benefit,” said Ruiz. “The fact that they’re in these big agricultural states shows that they are feasible to implement … and are very helpful in helping to prevent overexposure.”
The EPA cites other reforms, producing a before and after primer showing how the rules will change. The specific changes include:
- An expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides; the signs prohibit entry into pesticide-treated fields until residues decline to a safe level.
- A requirement that Personal Protection Equipment (respirator use) be consistent with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards, including fit test, medical evaluation, and training.
- Measures to improve states’ ability to enforce compliance including requiring employers to keep records of application-specific pesticide information.
“Today marks an important milestone for the farm workers who plant, tend, and harvest the food that we put on our tables each day,” McCarthy said. “Protecting our nation’s farm workers from pesticide exposure is at the core of EPA’s work to ensure environmental justice.”
The changes, the administrator said, follow “more than a decade of extensive stakeholder input by federal and state partners and from across the agricultural community including farm workers, farmers and industry.”
Economos cites the “good and bad” of the proposed changes, which will now go through a public comment period before becoming final.
“We really want to applaud the EPA for all the work they’ve done on this. We know it’s been a long time in the making,” Economos said. “We’ve been waiting a long time.”
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
- DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - EcoWatch ›
- Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster? - EcoWatch ›
- California Makes Face Masks Mandatory to Fight Pandemic ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
- New England Fishing Communities Being Destroyed by 'Climate ... ›
- Shrimp Fishing Banned in Gulf of Maine Due to Ocean Warming ... ›
- Atlantic Salmon Is All But Extinct as a Genetically Eroded Version of ... ›
A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- 50 Million Americans Are Currently Living Under Some Type of Heat ... ›
- Second Major Heat Wave This Summer Smashes Records Across ... ›
By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
- Anti-Racism Protests Are Not Driving Coronavirus Spikes, Data ... ›
- Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Shows Where Florida Springbreakers ... ›
NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.