Farmworkers and their advocates welcomed news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will soon propose revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), which provides minimal workplace protections against pesticide exposures for farmworkers. A coalition of farmworker, public health, and other non-profit organizations has long urged the EPA to include stronger protections for farmworkers in the WPS.
It has been more than 20 years since these rules have been updated and the EPA has admitted for more than a decade that the standards are inadequate. Following a recently completed review by the Office of Management and Budget, advocates expect the EPA will publish the proposed rule for public comment in the next few weeks. Advocates would like the updated rules to include improved 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 our nation’s 1–2 million farmworkers facing the highest threat from the health impacts of these chemicals. The federal government estimates that 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. Cumulative long-term exposures 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.
Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice submitted a petition to the EPA in November 2011, on behalf of United Farm Workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc., PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), Farm Worker Pesticide Project (FWPP), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF), and the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), urging it to strengthen the outdated and weak WPS.
“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, a public interest law firm. “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.”
“Farmworkers have waited long enough,” said Tirso Moreno, General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida. “Every day without stronger regulations is a day where a farmworker risks short and long term health effects from workplace pesticide exposure. The time is now. Farmworkers need improved WPS standards.”
“The nation’s 2 million farmworkers deserve the level of workplace protections provided to other workers,” said Dr. Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist with PANNA. “Protections for workers from pesticide exposure also means protection for farmworker children and families.”