Earlier this month, farmworkers and health organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organizations argue that the EPA should not postpone the decision to protect farmworkers from restricted-use pesticide exposure. The delay in decision-making also prevents the EPA from setting age requirements for pesticide application among young farmworkers.
Failure to Implement the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule
The group of organizations have sued the EPA on the basis that their delay in implementing the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule can cause adverse health problems to arise for farmworkers and others who are exposed to the pesticides indirectly. The revised version of the CPA rule was published on January 4, 2017, and was set to be enforced on March 6, 2017. But now the Trump Administration has decided to delay the CPA rule’s implementation indefinitely.
The lawsuit also says that the EPA did not give the public enough notice to comment on the rules which delayed the implementation. The EPA failed to get other government agencies involved to review the environmental health implications as a result of the delay. The farmworkers and their families who are constantly exposed to restricted use pesticides were also not considered.
If enforced, the CPA rule would set standards on the minimum age limit for certified pesticide applicators. The rule would require applicators to be at least 18 years old, literate, and attend applicator safety training annually. According to ThinkProgress, “the CPA training would provide in-language lessons for people on the potential dangers of pesticide exposure, how to use equipment properly, how to prevent environmental contamination like runoff and drift, and how to report pesticide safety violations to enforcement agencies.” Applicators would also be trained in aerial spray application to help reduce “the off-target movement of pesticides on plants, animals, and bystanders.”
Battle Between Health and Industrial Economy
Unfortunately, the EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, also decided to delay the ban of the harmful restricted-use pesticide known as chlorpyrifos. Although there are scientific studies that have “found a correlation between the pesticide and human health problems for farmworkers and children,” Pruitt claims that “the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.”
Pruitt has looked past the health and safety of farmworkers, and instead makes decisions based on the economic interests of industry. He argues that more research is needed before banning chlorpyrifos because thousands of farms rely on the insecticide’s “regulatory certainty”. The Obama administration was in support of a gradual ban of chlorpyrifos, but unfortunately Pruitt has a different agenda in mind.
Just days before the CPA rule lawsuit, seven states and various health and labor organizations decided to challenge Pruitt on his decision to allow the use of restricted-use pesticides. The states and organizations argue that the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act has been violated by the EPA. By allowing the use of pesticides, infants and children are no longer protected from harmful chemicals that end up in food, water, and the air. This lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Pesticide Action Network North America, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Farmworker Association of Florida, and United Farm Workers.
Communities at Risk
Communities throughout the U.S. are at risk because of direct and indirect exposure to harmful pesticides. Pesticide application poses the greatest health risk to farmworkers, especially the immigrant farmworker labor force. Immigrant farmworkers are less likely to file complaints about health issues or receive treatment out of fear that their employer might retaliate. The Southern Poverty Law Center has found that “in a 10-year period, less than eight percent of 4,609 violations of pesticide regulations in Florida resulted in fines”.
According to Farmworker Justice, pesticide applicators “can be exposed because of spills, splashes, defective, missing, or inadequate protective equipment, direct spray, or drift”. When farmworkers go home they also put their families at risk because of pesticide residue from hair, skin and clothing. Pesticides can also drift from fields and negatively affect people in homes and schools nearby.