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Farmworkers Sue EPA Over Workplace Protections Delay

Improved pesticide standards would save $64 million in health-care costs a year, according to the EPA. (USDA/Wikimedia Commons)
Improved pesticide standards would save $64 million in health-care costs a year, according to the EPA. (USDA/Wikimedia Commons)
June 1, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – Farmworker groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for delaying key safety standards for working with pesticides. The 2015 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard requires that pesticide-training materials be updated and improved, but the Trump administration has yet to publish the new materials.

Thousands of farmworkers are poisoned by pesticides every year. Ramon Ramirez is political director with the Oregon farmworkers' union Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, one of the groups filing a lawsuit against the EPA.

He says it's a no-brainer to farmworker organizations that the EPA implement these standards and make the new training mandatory to protect workers' lives.

"And yet, what they've done is delayed it,” says Ramirez. “And so, we couldn't wait around. We have to protect the people that put the food on our table day in and day out in America, and it's absurd that the EPA is doing this. So we filed the lawsuit against them."

The new materials expand and improve the content for pesticide safety training. The attorneys general of New York, California and Maryland have also filed lawsuits challenging the delay. Opponents of the measure say it will impose extra costs on the industry, possibly leading to fewer jobs.

Hannah Chang is a staff attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing farmworker groups in the suit. Chang says agriculture and crop production is one of the most hazardous industries to work in.

"Pesticide exposures are not just acute, but also chronic exposures from daily, minimal exposures over a long period of time that may not result in an obvious poisoning incident but have chronic well-documented cancer and non-cancer health effects on workers," says Chang.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA estimated that the new Worker Protection Standard rule would help workers avoid being poisoned and thus save $64 million a year in healthcare costs.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR