In Stunning Reversal, EPA Stops Plan to Let Minors Handle Dangerous Pesticides

EWG: ‘We’re stunned and relieved.’

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration will no longer pursue plans allowing farm operators to let minors spray toxic pesticides on crops.

In an undated letter, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler informed the chair and ranking members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that his agency will drop its plans to roll back the Obama-era rule prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 from handling restricted-use pesticides.

Sen. Tom Carper, (D-Del.), the Ranking Member of the EPW committee secured this concession, and other commitments, by Acting Administrator Wheeler. Restricted-use pesticides are the most dangerous class of pesticides, which can be handled only by trained professionals and are not available to the general public.

The EPA and the Trump administration have come under pressure from environmental and farmworker rights groups for their proposal to lower the minimum age requirements for handling such pesticides from 18 to 16, a rollback sought by farm lobby groups. 

“We’re stunned and relieved by this welcome reversal. Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency comes with a default setting that protects polluters, not kids,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Dangerous pesticides that can cause cancer and brain damage should never be anywhere near children.”

The minimum age rules were enacted by the Obama administration to protect minors who work on farms. Some of these teenagers are members of families who own or operate the farms, but many are migrant workers who speak little English, making it harder to understand directions about how to apply pesticides safely. 

The rules were championed by physician groups, environmental organizations and farmworker-rights advocates, who led a multiyear effort to improve protections for farmworkers. Disclosure forms show that in the first year of the Trump administration, the American Farm Bureau Federation – the main lobby group for the conventional agriculture industry – met with members of Congress and the administration on the minimum age rules.

“The chemical agriculture industry may feel it’s perfectly safe to strap pesticide spray packs on the backs of children, but it appears this is a line even the Trump administration has decided not to cross,” said Cook.

This decision by Wheeler to block a proposal by his predecessor Scott Pruitt, ahead of what will almost certainly be a bruising Senate confirmation hearing to be EPA administrator, could be seen as a cynical attempt to blunt criticism of Wheeler’s record of dismantling Obama-era programs to curb pollution into the nation’s air and water.

“This action aside, the Senate should not forget that as acting administrator, Wheeler has taken almost every opportunity to help his former employers in the coal and chemical industries, at the expense of public health,” added Cook.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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