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Farmworkers Challenge Pesticide Training Delay

New York is one of the top three apple producing states in the nation. (lumix2004/Pixabay)
New York is one of the top three apple producing states in the nation. (lumix2004/Pixabay)
June 1, 2018

NEW YORK – Improved pesticide training will save lives. That's the message farmworkers are sending to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with a lawsuit filed this week.

Every year thousands of farmworkers are poisoned by pesticides. The 2015 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard requires that pesticide training materials be updated and improved.

The new materials expand the content for pesticide safety training, set qualifications for trainers and require more frequent training. According to Hannah Chang, staff attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, the updated training materials have been ready for a year.

"EPA has acknowledged that the new training materials are publicly available. The EPA is explicitly refusing to publish the notice of availability because they don't want to make the training mandatory,” says Chang. “And that is what we're challenging."

Last December the EPA said it is reconsidering aspects of the 2015 rule and delayed publication to prevent extra work and costs to developers of the training materials and EPA reviewers. The attorneys general of New York, California and Maryland have also filed lawsuits challenging the delay.

New York is major producer of apples and grapes, as well as corn and other vegetables. Richard Witt, executive director of with the non-profit advocacy group Rural and Migrant Ministries, says pesticide exposure is a major issue.

"There are a variety of protections supposedly in place, but they're not very well enforced and people look to cut corners," says Witt.

He says there are about 100-thousand farmworkers in New York.

And Chang points out that the farmworkers themselves aren't the only ones at risk of pesticide poisoning.

"A lot of these workers have families who live very close to the farms where they work, so they're exposed not just with the pesticide drift, they're exposed with workers coming home with pesticides on their clothes," says Chang.

The EPA's own analysis says the improved worker protection standard would save more than $64 million dollars a year in avoided health care costs.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY