Days After Calif. Farmworkers Sickened by Pesticide Drift, EPA Delays Safety Rule
WASHINGTON – Last week the Trump administration decided to delay a rule meant to ensure that the most dangerous pesticides are applied safely. This came just days after farmworkers were made sick from exposure to one of the pesticides in question, which was improperly sprayed on a California citrus orchard.
The delayed rule would have also required that workers who apply such restricted-use pesticides are at least 18 years old. And to add insult to injury, the Environmental Protection Agency is giving the public only a few days to comment on the rule, instead of the customary 30 days.
"With this one action, the EPA is showing disregard for public health and safety, for making sure youth are protected from dangerous jobs, and for Americans having a meaningful voice in environmental decision-making," said Ken Cook, president of EWG. "The Trump administration is sending a clear signal that it cares more about kowtowing to the pesticide industry than protecting Americans from dangerous agricultural chemicals."
The rule in question concerns who is allowed to spray restricted-use pesticides and how they do it. These highly toxic pesticides, such as atrazine and chlorpyrifos, can only be handled by certified applicators. Atrazine is a hormone-disrupting weedkiller and is one of the most widely detected pesticides in tap water, while chlorpyrifos is an insecticide that can harm children's brains and nervous systems, and that has been banned for home uses. In March, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt cancelled a proposed ban on all uses of chlorpyrifos – a decision applauded by the pesticide industry. Days before President Trump was sworn into office, a number of leading health professionals urged the EPA to prohibit the all uses of chlorpyrifos on food.
On May 5, more than 50 farmworkers were exposed to chlorpyrifos that drifted from a mandarin orange orchard into an adjacent cabbage field southwest of Bakersfield, Calif. A dozen of the workers reported symptoms of vomiting, nausea and fainting, and one had to be taken to the hospital, according to a report by KGET-TV of Bakersfield.
The new rule, which was supposed to go into effect May 22, would have established stricter requirements for application of restricted-used pesticides, and set a minimum age of 18 for certified applicators of the chemicals. There is currently no minimum age for applicators of restricted-use pesticides.
“Unfortunately, protecting people, including young Americans, from dangerous pesticides is clearly not a priority for the Trump administration,” Cook added.
At the behest of the chemical agribusiness industry, Pruitt announced last Friday that implementation of the new rule will be pushed back at least a year. The EPA will only allow the public to comment on the decision until May 19, instead of the normal 30-day public comment period.