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EPA Chief May Let Young Farmworkers Handle Toxic Pesticides

In the News
Friday, January 12, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is taking steps that could lift health-protective safeguards designed to prevent teenage farmworkers from handling toxic pesticides.

The EPA has officially opened a public comments period for a proposal to repeal a minimum age requirement enacted by the Obama administration that prohibits people under 18 years old from handling pesticides on farms, according to Dave Jamieson of Huffpost.

The agency could also revise or cancel another rule regulating who can be certified to apply the most dangerous, or “restricted use,” pesticides. This class of crop chemicals cannot be sold to the general public due to the acute risks they present to human health and the environment.

One pesticide in this category is chlorpyrifos, which has been shown to cause brain damage in children at even low doses. Because of its risks, the EPA was scheduled to ban it from use in agriculture, but in one of his first acts as EPA chief,  Pruitt blocked the ban.

As Huffpost reports, the rules were put in place to protect minors hired by farmers to work the fields. Many of these young people are migrant workers who speak little English, which could make it even harder for them to understand directions on how to safely apply pesticides. 

“This is further proof that Scott Pruitt could not care less about the health of children,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Virtually no one outside of agribusiness and Administrator Pruitt would think it’s a good idea to let young people spray dangerous pesticides on crops.”

Among the groups who championed the minimum age requirements for pesticide application were physicians and farmworker rights advocates, who led a multi-year effort to improve protections for farmworkers.

“If people in the U.S. under the age of 18 cannot vote, rent a car or buy liquor, why is OK for them to handle pesticides or be certified to apply extremely toxic agricultural chemicals?” said Jeannie Economos, pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator at the Farmworker Association of Florida.

“The science is clear,” Economos said. “Children and youth under 18 have less developed decision-making skills. These latest actions by the EPA to attempt to weaken protections for farmworker families defy logic and are an affront to the people who feed us.”

Farmworker and environmental advocates have worked for decades to improve safeguards for pesticide exposure for agricultural workers and their children.

“When people are handling dangerous pesticides, they need to make sure they know what they’re doing,” William Jordan, a former top EPA official who helped draft the rules, told Huffpost. “When people are handling dangerous pesticides, they need to make sure they know what they’re doing.” And when it comes to the most dangerous of pesticides, he said, even “a small amount like a teaspoon can kill you.”


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