EPA updates pesticide application rule

Revisions to application exclusion zone requirements welcomed by ag industry as more flexible.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

October 28, 2019

4 Min Read
EPA updates pesticide application rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing narrow updates to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) pesticide regulation to improve the long-term success of the agency’s application exclusion zone (AEZ) requirements, the agency said. The targeted updates would improve enforceability for state regulators and reduce regulatory burdens for farmers. It would also maintain public health protections for farm workers and other individuals near agricultural establishments that could be exposed to agricultural pesticide applications. The proposed updates are consistent with the newly enacted 2019 Pesticide Registration Improvement Act.

“EPA’s proposal would enhance the agency’s application exclusion zone provisions by making them more effective and easier to implement,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “In listening to input from stakeholders, our proposal will make targeted updates, maintaining safety requirements to protect the health of those in farm country while providing greater flexibility for farmers.”

EPA continues to support the AEZ requirement. The agency is holding a 90-day public comment period and is seeking input on select updates that were publicly suggested to EPA by both state pesticide agencies responsible for enforcing the provision and agricultural stakeholders since the AEZ requirement was adopted in 2015. The proposed updates are also consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s comments during a May 2017 meeting of EPA’s Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee.

Related:Consumer fear on pesticides in food unwarranted

Specifically, EPA is proposing to:

  • Modify the AEZ so it is applicable and enforceable only on a farm owner’s property, where a farm owner can lawfully exercise control over employees and bystanders who could fall within the AEZ. As currently written, the off-farm aspect of this provision has proved very difficult for state regulators to enforce. These proposed changes would enhance both enforcement and implementation of the AEZ for state regulators and farm owners respectively. Off-farm bystanders would still be protected from pesticide applications thanks to the existing “do not contact” requirement that prohibits use in a manner that would contact unprotected individuals.

  • Exempt immediate family members of farm owners from all aspects of the AEZ requirement. This will allow farm owners and their immediate family members to decide whether to stay in their homes or other enclosed structures on their property during certain pesticide applications rather than compelling them to leave even when they feel safe remaining.

  • Add clarifying language that pesticide applications that are suspended due to individuals entering an AEZ may be resumed after those individuals have left the AEZ.

  • Simplify the criteria for deciding whether pesticide applications are subject to the 25 ft. or 100 ft. AEZ.

Related:Grocery giant Kroger updates pesticide policy

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) chief executive officer Dr. Barb Glenn said NASDA appreciates EPA’s continued steps to prioritize worker safety. “Additional and improved guidelines for implementing pesticide safety standards are always welcomed, as NASDA members hold highly the responsibility of protecting our nation’s agricultural workforce. We thank EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for mapping out the new rules with NASDA as each member implements the regulations and intricacies within them.”

“I applaud EPA’s action to provide growers relief from a very cumbersome requirement by proposing changes to the Worker Protection Standard consistent with our remarks submitted during a 2017 comment period,” Georgia agriculture commissioner Gary W. Black said. “Our growers go to great lengths to comply with the WPS, only to be frustrated with its complexity. Updating and simplifying the application exclusion zone provision within this rule will strengthen enforceability for state regulators and better support outreach and education efforts by research partners, all while reducing regulatory burdens for our farmers.”

Agricultural Retailers Assn. (ARA) president and CEO Daren Coppock said the initial AEZ regulations were impractical and would have severely disrupted normal agricultural pesticide applications. “These targeted revisions will reduce regulatory burdens, improve industry compliance and ensure it is feasible for farm owners to implement without incurring a significant adverse economic impact,” Coppock said. “ARA supports practical regulations designed to protect farm workers from exposure to pesticide applications which can be accomplished with a modified AEZ and pesticides applied following the EPA’s Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act approved label.”

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) president Zippy Duvall said the bureau “welcomes EPA’s effort to refine and improve the application exclusion zone requirement. It’s part of the Worker Protection Standard rule, which was recently revised in a way that has proved challenging for many farmers. Every effort to make the rule more sensible and practical for farmers while safeguarding workers is important. EPA’s step today to assure that only those areas under a farmer’s control are enforceable is a commonsense clarification, among others designed to reflect on-the-ground farming practices. AFBF commends Administrator Wheeler and the agency for this commonsense and welcome revision.”

Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Texas) also commended Wheeler for clarifying the AEZ requirements. "This is a positive development for our nation’s farmers, farm workers and their state regulatory partners. Unlike the last Administration’s misguided regulations, AEZ is now an enforceable rule that maintains worker protections without additional burden to farmers. While there is still more to do to improve the Worker Protection Standard, I appreciate EPA’s efforts and look forward to continuing this important work,” he said.

EPA will be accepting public comments on the proposed updates for 90 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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