EPA Finalizes Pesticide Ag Worker Rule

Worker Protection Safety Rule Makes Changes to 2015 Requirements

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The EPA finalized a new worker protection safety rule designed to protect agriculture workers from exposure to pesticides. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

OMAHA (DTN) -- A new final rule issued on Thursday by the EPA makes a number of changes to application exclusion zones when it comes to applying pesticides, designed to protect agriculture workers from exposure in the field.

Most notably, AEZ requirements in the worker protection safety rule are designed to keep agriculture workers away from areas on farms where pesticides are being applied. The rule requires ag workers to not be within either 25 feet or 100 feet from where pesticides are being applied.

Pesticide applicators are required to shut down spraying when someone enters exclusion zones.

In addition, the previous rule required farm workers to take steps to protect themselves from pesticides even after they left the farm. The new rule removes those provisions.

Immediate family members of farm owners now are exempt from the AEZ requirements. The new rule allows farm owners and their immediate family to shelter in place inside closed buildings when pesticides are being applied.

The rule gives farm owners and their families "flexibility to decide whether to stay on-site during pesticide applications, rather than compelling them to leave even when they feel safe remaining," the agency said in a news release.

In addition, the EPA added new language to allow pesticide applications suspended because of individuals entering an AEZ, to resume after those individuals have left.

The new rule outlines updated criteria to help farms determine whether pesticide applications are subject to a 25-foot or 100-foot AEZ.

The EPA has left in place the do-not-contact provision of the rule prohibiting a pesticide handler or applicator and the handler's employer from applying a pesticide in a way that contacts workers or other persons directly or through drift.

"The changes to the AEZ requirements make it easier to ensure people near our nation's farms are protected," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement, "while simultaneously enhancing the workability of these provisions for farm owners and protecting the environment."

The new rule left in place a number of changes made in the 2015 rule.

Farm workers still are required to have annual training on the protections afforded to them. Previously, training was required only every five years. The EPA rule still prohibits anyone under age 18 from handling pesticides.

Starting on Jan. 26, 2017, EPA started delaying the March 6, 2017, effective date of the rule.

The agency previously argued in court that states had until March 2020 to submit pesticide certification plans, even if the rule didn't go into effect on March 6, 2017.

In March 2018, a federal court in California declared that the 2015 rule went into effect on March 6, 2017, and that EPA violated the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to provide notice and opportunity to comment before delaying the rule.

Read the final rule here: https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley