Federal agencies Agriculture, forestry and fishing

EPA final rule limits farmers’ responsibility for protecting workers from pesticides


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Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final rule that revises the pesticide application exclusion zone requirement in the agency’s standard on agricultural worker protection.

EPA classifies the application exclusion zone as “the area surrounding the application that must be free of all persons, other than appropriately trained and equipped handlers, during pesticide applications.”

Under the rule, published in the Oct. 30 Federal Register and slated to go into effect Dec. 29, EPA will:

  • Make exclusion requirements applicable and enforceable only within farm owners’ property, amending current provisions that extend the boundary to areas outside a farm in which workers and others may be exposed to pesticide processes.
  • Exempt farm owners’ immediate family members from “all aspects” of the requirement.
  • Establish clarifying language stating that pesticide applications suspended as a result of individuals entering an exclusion zone may be resumed after the individuals have left the area.
  • Simplify criteria for determining whether pesticide applications are subject to a 25- or 100-foot exclusion zone.

In an EPA press release, Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the revisions “make it easier to ensure people near our nation’s farms are protected, while simultaneously enhancing the workability of these provisions for farm owners and protecting the environment.”

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Barb Glenn, who supported EPA’s proposed rule when it was published in October 2019, lauded the agency for issuing the final rule.

“In a time when certainty is valued more than ever, we’re thankful for the clarity the rule creates for farmers,” Glenn said in a press release.

Opponents of the rule – including advocacy group Earthjustice – contend the revisions compromise worker and family protections by increasing the risk of pesticide exposure, which has been linked to cancer, Parkinson’s disease and asthma, EPA states.


“The EPA’s latest rollback is a despicable attack on farmworkers and rural communities,” Carrie Apfel, staff attorney for the Sustainable Food and Farming Program at Earthjustice, said in a press release. “In yet another handout to industry, the EPA delivered a blow to the health and safety of farmworkers by weakening protections that prevent unnecessary and unsafe exposure to pesticides.

“Exposure to pesticides have a range of negative health impacts, such as respiratory distress. Amid a respiratory pandemic, it’s unconscionable that an agency tasked with protecting public health would instead choose to seriously endanger vulnerable, yet essential, workers and communities.”

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