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Farmworker Groups Sue EPA for Withholding New Pesticide Training Materials

According to Earthjustice, approximately 10,000 to 20,000 pesticide poisonings occur every year among farmworkers. (Pixabay)
According to Earthjustice, approximately 10,000 to 20,000 pesticide poisonings occur every year among farmworkers. (Pixabay)
May 31, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Farmworkers are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to make pesticide safety training mandatory across the agricultural industry.

The Obama administration updated pesticide training rules in 2015. To date, the information that would provide the dos-and-donts of handling pesticides have been kept off the Federal Register - a move that would make them mandatory.

Jeannie Economos is a pesticide safety coordinator with the Farmworkers Association of Florida. She said they've been working for 20 years to protect farmworkers from exposure to pesticides. But their success has been blocked under the Trump administration, which she said is ignoring common sense.

"Thousands and thousands of public comments and their own research to try and roll back some of the protections for farmworkers, including the minimum age, which we think is an absolute no-brainer,” Economos said. “Nobody under 18 years of age should be handling toxic pesticides."

Opponents point to the fact that the information has been publicly available for more than a year. But groups representing farmworkers say the EPA needs to take more aggressive steps, considering the thousands of farmworkers poisoned each year.

The attorneys general of Maryland, California and New York filed similar federal suits on Wednesday.

Economos said she believes as many as 250,000 farmworkers are in Florida depending on the season. Earthjustice staff attorney Hannah Chang said the EPA is illegally withholding information that farmworkers - who are most often already suffering - need in order to be safe from pesticide exposure.

"They are often not able to speak English, have received minimal formal education in their countries of origin, have no access to health care, are often migrant laborers,” Chang said. “And so this type of training and information is exactly what they need to protect themselves."

Chang added that according to the government's own findings, the benefits of enforcing the new training materials would exceed $64 million each year in avoided health costs.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL