Stakeholders should be aware of stronger pesticide regulations

February 20, 2014

Pesticides are critical for the nation's agricultural industry. They protect plants from insects and allow for bountiful harvests, year after year. In spite of these benefits, pesticides are not without risk.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), both short- and long-term exposure to certain pesticides can lead to poisoning and even death. And there are many ways in which one can ingest pesticide. In addition to being present in food, these chemicals can also leech into soil and groundwater. Given that 50 percent of the nation depends on groundwater for drinking needs, this is a pressing concern.

In addition, pesticide runoff can enter rivers and be pushed thousands of miles downstream. Many scientists are concerned with the state of the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to constant farm runoff traveling down the Mississippi River, a growing area in the Gulf is considered a "dead zone" and cannot support aquatic life.

It is no surprise, then, that the EPA is considering new ways to regulate these potentially harmful chemicals.

EPA seeks to update Agricultural Worker Protection Standard

Specifically, the EPA is looking to improve protections necessary for farm workers, who deal with these pesticides on a regular basis.

"It is long past time for farmworkers to get the same workplace protections that most other Americans in the workplace do," Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice, told the Central Valley Business Times. "We encourage the EPA to strengthen and bolster a safeguard that will help protect those who are on the frontlines of our food system."

The EPA is focusing on the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, which was first adopted in 1992. Though it seeks to keep workers safe from many of these chemicals, the EPA believes that it is outdated and not equipped to do what it was originally intended to do.

For example, the news source reported that the standard as it is currently written does not require documentation of whether rules surrounding pesticides are actually being followed. In addition, it does little to take into account children who become agricultural workers at age 12.

As part of its reform package, the EPA wants to increase mandatory training so farm workers are aware of how the law can benefit them. It also wants to prohibit children under the age of 16 from handling pesticides and place restrictions on those who try to enter fields where pesticides have been sprayed.

Finally, the EPA seeks to make it easier for states to enforce regulatory compliance on this issue, including keeping records on employers.

Given these changes, it is in the best interest of stakeholders—both the farm industry and the federal government—to work together to ensure that dangerous substances are handled properly. In this case, an environmental consultant could help make sense of the regulations and establish best practices for managing liabilities.