Farmworkers welcomed an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it will soon propose revisions to the Worker Protection Standard, which provides minimal workplace protections against pesticide exposures for farmworkers.
A coalition of farmworker, public health and other nonprofit organizations has long urged the EPA to include stronger protections for farmworkers. More than 20 years has passed since the rules were updated and the EPA has admitted for more than a decade that the standards are inadequate.
Following a review by the federal Office of Management and Budget, advocates expect the EPA will publish the proposed rule for public comment in the next few weeks. The farmworkers want to see updated rules for safety training requirements, safety precautions limiting farmworkers’ contact with pesticides and mechanisms to improve enforcement of workplace protections.
An estimated 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States with the nation’s 1 million to 2 million farmworkers facing the highest threat from the health impacts of the chemicals.
The federal government estimates there are 10,000–20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually. Short-term effects of pesticide exposures include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems and even death.
Long-term exposure can increase the risk of serious chronic health problems such as cancer, birth defects, neurological impairments and Parkinson’s disease for farmworkers, their families and their children.
A petition for reform was filed by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice in November 2011 on behalf of United Farm Workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc., PCUN/Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, Farm Worker Pesticide Project, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the Pesticide Action Network North America.
"While most Americans benefit from broad workplace protections, farmworkers are fundamentally disadvantaged and face dangerous exposure to poisons over the course of their working life,” said Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice. "We urge the EPA to offer farmworkers a more protective safeguard."
"Each year pesticide exposure poisons tens of thousands of farmworkers and their families, leading to injury, illness, and death," said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice. "We applaud the administration for taking this step to help protect the men, women and children who labor to put food on our tables. We hope that the EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will include important safeguards for farmworkers and strengthen their right to a safe workplace."