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Groups Sue Feds for Farm-Worker Pesticide Training

Advocates say doctors diagnose thousands of cases of pesticide poisoning among farm workers each year. (Wasan_Gredpree/iStockphoto)
Advocates say doctors diagnose thousands of cases of pesticide poisoning among farm workers each year. (Wasan_Gredpree/iStockphoto)
May 31, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The nonprofit law firm Earthjustice filed suit against the EPA in federal court on Wednesday, asking the judge to force the agency to formally publish pesticide safety training rules for farmworkers.

The Trump administration is refusing to publish the Obama-era rules in the Federal Register, which would make them mandatory. Earthjustice staff attorney Hannah Chang said the trainings are part of the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, a federal set of safeguards meant to prevent pesticide poisonings.

"The pesticide exposures are not just acute poisonings, which do happen,” Chang said, “but also chronic exposures, from daily minimal exposures over a long period of time that may not result in an obvious incident, but have chronic, well-documented cancer and non-cancer health effects."

The attorneys general of California, New York and Maryland filed similar federal suits on Wednesday, also in the Southern District of New York. The EPA said it does not comment on pending litigation. Opponents of the rules say they hurt farmworkers by imposing extra costs on the industry, which could lead to fewer jobs.

The standards teach ways to avoid overexposure and how to decontaminate work clothes. Mily Trevino-Sauceda, founder of the group Allianza Nacional de Campesinas, said the standards should be fully implemented to protect farmworkers and their families.

"You have thousands on an annual basis who are being poisoned," Trevino-Sauceda said. "And the farmworkers were not being trained, so people did not know how to prevent from being poisoned."

California is home to an estimated 500,000-800,000 farmworkers. The EPA, under Obama, estimated that the new Worker Protection Standard rule would help workers avoid being poisoned and thus save $64 million a year in health care costs.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA