By Timothy D. Backstrom and Lisa M. Campbell
On June 14, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will soon publish in the Federal Register a Notice of Availability (NOA) stating that worker safety training materials, including the expanded subject matter required by the 2015 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, are available for use. The prepublication version of the NOA is available on EPA’s website. The NOA confirms that the publication “triggers the WPS requirement that training programs must include all of the topics specified in the 2015 revisions to the WPS.” Because the 2015 WPS rule is already in effect, employers must provide expanded training addressing these topics within 180 days of publication. The expanded training materials that are the subject of the NOA were developed through a cooperative agreement with the Pesticide Education Resources Collaborative (PERC), and are available on PERC’s website.
EPA previously issued a Federal Register notice on December 21, 2017, stating that it “expects to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in FY 2018 to solicit public input on proposed revisions to the WPS requirements for minimum age, designated representative, and application exclusion zone.” In this 2017 notice, EPA stated that it did not expect to issue the NOA for training materials addressing the 2015 WPS rule until after completing a rulemaking concerning these proposed revisions. This deferral of the NOA would have significantly delayed the expanded training for handlers and agricultural workers contemplated by the 2015 rule. In the NOA, EPA states that it is still reconsidering the same three requirements, and that “if those requirements are changed through a final rulemaking, training materials may need to be amended to reflect such changes.”
On May 30, 2018, two complaints were filed against EPA in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging EPA’s decision to defer publication of the NOA. More information on these lawsuits is available in our blog item "Lawsuits Filed in Federal District Court Regarding WPS Training Delay." Because publication of the new NOA will afford the plaintiffs in these cases all of the substantive relief they were seeking, it appears that these actions will now be moot other than any request for attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the plaintiffs.
More information on WPS issues is available on our blog under key words Worker Protection Standard, delay, guidance, and training.
By Timothy D. Backstrom
On May 30, 2018, two complaints were filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Both of these suits concern a decision by EPA to defer publication of a notice of availability (NOA) of training materials prepared pursuant to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), 40 C.F.R. Part 170. The WPS was originally promulgated in 1974, substantially amended in 1992, and then revised again in 2015. Although the 2015 revisions to the WPS are currently in effect, employers are not required to adopt new training programs for agricultural workers and handlers until 180 days after EPA publishes the NOA announcing the availability of the new training materials in the Federal Register.
On December 21, 2017, EPA issued a Federal Register notice indicating that it “expects to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in FY 2018 to solicit public input on proposed revisions to the WPS requirements for minimum age, designated representative, and application exclusion zones.” In this 2017 notice, EPA acknowledged that the WPS provisions it will propose to revise are already in effect and that training materials consistent with the 2015 rule have already been prepared, but stated that EPA does not expect to issue the NOA for these new training materials until after it completes a rulemaking concerning the proposed revisions to the 2015 WPS rule. The plaintiffs in both of the new district court cases are challenging the decision of EPA to defer issuance of the NOA, which has delayed the timetable for expanded training for agricultural workers and handlers contemplated by the 2015 WPS rule.
The first of two complaints was filed by Rural & Migrant Ministry, et al. (RAM) v. EPA, Case No. 1:18-cv-04743. RAM’s complaint includes four causes of action based on EPA’s failure to issue the NOA. RAM alleges that this failure is “arbitrary and capricious,” constitutes “agency action unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed,” and violates the publication requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Federal Register Act. RAM requests a declaratory judgment that EPA has violated the APA and the Federal Register Act, and injunctive relief to require immediate publication of the NOA.
The second complaint was filed by the States of New York, California, and Maryland, New York v. Pruitt, Case No. 1:18-cv-04739. These State plaintiffs also contend that EPA’s failure to publish the NOA is “arbitrary and capricious,” and constitutes “action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed.” Like RAM, the State plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment and an injunction requiring that EPA immediately publish the NOA for the expanded training materials. EPA will presumably seek consolidation of the two cases, which both challenge the same EPA actions and seek comparable relief.
The principal question presented by these two WPS cases is whether EPA can lawfully defer full implementation of the expanded training required by the 2015 WPS while it undertakes and completes a new rulemaking to revise certain provisions of the same rule. Although EPA acknowledges that it has prepared the written materials needed to effectuate the expanded training required by the 2015 WPS, EPA will likely argue that it is both more efficient and less confusing for employers and workers to use the existing training materials until after EPA has finished revising the WPS. In contrast, the plaintiffs in these two cases will argue that the 2015 WPS is already in effect, and that the protection for workers associated with the expanded training required by this rule has been improperly delayed by EPA without any prior notice and comment rulemaking.
The decision by EPA to defer full implementation of the 2015 WPS while EPA considers potential revisions to the WPS may be deemed analogous in some respects to other EPA actions that delayed the effective date for a rule expanding requirements for certified applicators who apply restricted use pesticides (RUP). In a decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on March 21, 2018, the court vacated several EPA actions that had delayed the effective date for the RUP rule, holding that EPA was required to provide notice and opportunity for comment before taking such actions and that EPA lacked “good cause” for acting without notice and comment. See Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Pineros Y Campesinos Unidoa Del Noroeste v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-cv-03434-JSW.
The current cases may be distinguished from the actions EPA took to defer the effective date for the RUP rule because EPA has declined to take affirmative action to effectuate certain requirements in the 2015 WPS, rather than deferring the effective date for any of the requirements in that rule. It remains to be seen whether the district court will consider this procedural distinction to warrant a different outcome.
More information on WPS issues is available on our blog under key words Worker Protection Standard, delay, guidance, and training.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Susan M. Kirsch
On February 15, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added resources to its website regarding the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) requirements of the WPS. As of January 2, 2018, full compliance is required with all of the AEZ-related requirements in the WPS. The new EPA website resources include:
While many welcome EPA’s guidance on the many thorny issues presented by the WPS and AEZ requirements, some believe that in places, the newly issued guidance raises additional questions and leaves some significant questions unaddressed. Given the controversy over this rule, this new guidance should be reviewed closely.
More information on the WPS, including EPA’s December 2017 announcement of its intention to revise the AEZ and other WPS provisions, and current implementation deadlines can be found on our blog under key word WPS and key phrase Worker Protection Standard.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On February 12, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it has reached an agreement with Syngenta Seeds, LLC (Syngenta), a pesticide company in Hawaii, to resolve alleged violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) at its farm in Kekaha, Kauai. The settlement includes two penalty components: a $400,000 Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) for worker protection standard (WPS) training; and $150,000 as a civil penalty.
The Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO), issued on February 7, 2018, states the parties are resolving alleged violations under FIFRA Section 12(a)(2)(G) from the use of the registered restricted-use pesticide Lorsban Advanced on an agricultural establishment in Kekaha, Hawaii, “in manners inconsistent with its labeling by not complying with applicable Worker Protection Standard regulations.” Syngenta neither admitted nor denied the allegations but consented to the assessment of the civil penalty and to the other conditions in the CAFO.
EPA’s Press Release states that under the settlement, Syngenta “will spend $400,000 on eleven worker protection training sessions for growers in Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.” Specifically, the SEP states it “is intended to assist and provide compliance tools to small-scale growers of agricultural plants that face compliance challenges based on cultural, literacy, or language considerations, and/or geographic isolation.” Further, Syngenta will “also develop compliance kits for use at these trainings and for wider distribution in the agricultural community in English and four other languages commonly spoken by growers and farmworkers in the training locations -- Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, and Ilocano.” These compliance kits will include the following practical resources, among others:
- Summary documents with corresponding videos addressing the major compliance topic areas within the WPS;
- Worker training resources including, but not limited to, training outlines with materials, tailgate training toolkits, and sign-in sheets; and
- Sample WPS company policies and procedures.
This CAFO and in particular the SEP will be interesting to monitor considering EPA’s recent WPS revisions that became effective on January 2, 2017, and the additional proposed revisions for which comments are expected to be solicited.
More information on FIFRA enforcement issues is available on our blog under key word enforcement. Information on Syngenta’s 2016 CAFO regarding label violations is available in our blog item Syngenta Settles with EPA on Alleged Label Violations.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced, in two separate notices, that it is initiating a process to revise (1) certain requirements in the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) (82 Fed. Reg. 60576 (Dec. 21. 2017)); and (2) to revise the minimum age requirements in the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (C&T) rule. 82 Fed. Reg. 60195 (Dec. 19. 2017).
For the WPS rulemaking, the provisions at issue were identified as part of the public comments received in response to Executive Order (EO) 13777, Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda. Three provisions in particular were the subject of public comment, and later consideration by the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC) at its November 2, 2017, meeting. The three provisions are: minimum age (the 2015 WPS specifies a minimum age of 18 years, with an exemption for owners of agricultural establishments and their immediate family members); designated representative (the 2015 WPS requires employers to provide pesticide application information and safety data sheets to a designated representative of a worker or handler under specified circumstances); and application exclusion zones (AEZ) (the 2015 WPS requires the establishment of AEZs with respect to outdoor production on farms, nurseries, and forests to reduce the number of incidents where workers or others are exposed to pesticides during agricultural pesticide applications).
EPA also announced that the compliance dates in the revised WPS remain in effect and that EPA has no intent to extend them. This means that most provisions in the revised WPS went into effect on January 2, 2017, and compliance with two additional requirements will begin on January 2, 2018. The two requirements include compliance with the display of pesticide safety information, and pesticide handlers must temporarily suspend applications if workers or others enter in the application zone during pesticide applications. The only requirements in the revised WPS that will not be in effect as of January 2, 2018, are the requirements that the worker and handler pesticide safety training material cover the expanded content at 40 C.F.R. §§ 170.401(c)(3) and 170.501(c)(3). The 2015 revised WPS provided that compliance with the expanded pesticide safety content in these sections was not required until 180 days after EPA publishes in the Federal Register a notice of availability of certain training materials. While there are training materials available that meet the expanded content requirement, EPA has not yet published such a Federal Register and apparently does not intend to do so until after the rulemaking announced on December 21 has concluded.
For the C&T rule, EPA expects to “publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit public input on proposed revisions to the rule by the end of FY2018,” and it has no plans to change the implementation dates in the January 4, 2017, final rule. The C&T notice states that “EPA has determined that further consideration of the rule’s minimum age requirements is warranted through the rulemaking process” after it considered comments received pursuant to EO 13777, revisiting the record, and reviewing the applicable statutory.
More information on WPS issues is available on our blog under key phrase Worker Protection Standard.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
In June 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) National Program Manager Guidance for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-2019, which sets forth the strategies and actions that EPA and its state and tribal partners will undertake to protect human health and the environment via six key programmatic activities. EPA uses an Annual Commitment System (ACS) to track annual regional performance information and results. Below is a listing of the six programmatic activities and their ACS measures, if applicable:
- Strengthening state and tribal partnerships through continued effective management of pesticide cooperative agreements. The guidance states that the “National Pesticide Program depends on cooperative agreements with states and tribes to implement many of the requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and to help ensure [EPA’s] regulatory decisions and programs achieve intended protections. For the ACS measure, the commitment target is 100 percent of pesticide program required activities included in grantee work plans completed under pesticide program portion of the FIFRA Grant Guidance. More information on the activities is listed in the guidance.
- Assisting in national, regional, and local pollinator protection efforts. EPA states that “through risk assessment, mitigation, education, and outreach, EPA’s Office of Pesticides Programs’ goal for pollinator protection is to ensure all pollinators, including managed pollinators such as honey bees, and native pollinator including Monarch Butterflies, are protected from adverse effects of pesticide exposure.” More information on the activities is listed in the guidance. EPA is not proposing any ACS measures to be associated with this area of focus for FY2018-2019.
- Effectively implementing the revised pesticides worker protection standard rule. More information on this rule is available on our blog under key phrase Worker Protection Standard. EPA states that no ACS measure is proposed to be associated with this area of focus for FY2018-2019 to “allow regional offices the flexibility to direct their efforts where they are most needed, and to select the activities and level of effort appropriate for the needs of their region.”
- Effectively implementing the revised certification of pesticide applicators rule. Same as above, EPA states that no ACS measure is proposed to be associated with this area of focus for FY2018-2019 to “allow regional offices the flexibility to direct their efforts where they are most needed, and to select the activities and level of effort appropriate for the needs of their region.” More information on this rule is available on our blog under key phrase pesticide applicators.
- Focusing region-specific pesticide priorities on those areas of greatest need nationally. EPA states that region-specific pesticide priority areas “support the agency’s national pesticide program efforts. In addition, these projects support one or more of the agency’s Strategic Plan goals and strategies, and directly benefit states and/or tribes. The region-specific pesticide priority areas to choose from are: (1) promotion of state and tribal pesticide program coordination and communication; (2) bed bug outreach and assistance; (3) promotion, development or support of integrated pest management efforts; (4) support of water quality risk assessment and mitigation; (5) spray drift outreach and incident data collection; and (6) support of emerging public health pesticide issues. The ACS measure commitment target is one project or initiative contributing to the implementation and enhancement of the region-specific pesticide program priority areas.
- Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). For the TRI program, EPA includes three ACS measures on the number of TRI data quality checks:
- The TRI-1 measure allows EPA to track performance of the TRI program, and aid in improving the accuracy and reliability of environmental data. This measure will provide valuable information as more than 21,000 facilities report to the TRI program annually.
- For FY2018, TRI-1 is a non-commitment measure of data quality calls and emails to 600 facilities in total across all regional offices.
- For FY2019, TRI-1 will be a commitment measure of data quality calls and email to 600 facilities in total across all regional offices.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
In a May 11, 2017, letter from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Assistant Administrator Wendy Cleland-Hamnett to the CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) posted by Bloomberg’s BNA Daily Environment Report, Cleland-Hamnett states that it is appropriate to grant NASDA’s request to delay implementation of all revised provisions to the agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) “until the necessary guidance and training have been completed which would allow state lead pesticide agencies to successfully implement the rule changes.” EPA has not yet issued any formal delay notifications.
The May 11, 2017, letter was sent in response to a February 17, 2017, letter from NASDA (February 21, 2017, per the NASDA website) that requested EPA to extend the WPS “until at least January 2, 2018, or until adequate enforcement guidance, educational materials, and training resources have been completed and the state lead agencies have the tools, time, and resources necessary to effectively implement the rule changes and assist the regulated community with compliance activities.” This letter was not submitted in the WPS docket in response to a request for comment, but pursuant to a NASDA membership decision. NASDA states in the letter that the new WPS regulations require “significant additional staff time to provide sufficient outreach to workers, handlers, applicators, agricultural employers, trainers and other stakeholders,” and that “the enhanced compliance and record keeping requirements require a robust delivery and understanding of educational resources and training materials to assist [state lead agencies] and the regulated community in understanding, complying, and enforcing the new requirements.”
The WPS final rule including updates and revisions to the existing worker protection regulations for pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) became effective on January 1, 2016, and on January 4, 2017, agricultural employers and handler employers were required to comply with all of the new requirements set forth in the final rule – with the exception of two requirements that would be implemented not before January 2018. More information on the final rule is available in our blog item EPA Publishes Worker Protection Standard Final Rule.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently launched a new Pesticide Worker Protection Dashboard (Dashboard). EPA states this Dashboard is “focused on the universe of agricultural operations regulated and farm workers and pesticide handlers covered by the Worker Protection Standard.” EPA states that the Dashboard provides charts and graphs presenting certain key enforcement and compliance information related to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) program under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Specifically, the Dashboard has screens which show the number of WPS inspections conducted, the number of violations found during inspections, the types of violations found, and the types and numbers of enforcement actions taken. Since the Dashboard is interactive, users can find answers to questions such as:
- How many facilities in the United States employ workers or handlers covered by the WPS;
- How many inspections are reported; and
- How many violations have been found, and what enforcement actions have been taken by states, tribes and/or EPA.
EPA states that Dashboard information from states and tribes is compiled from data on state and tribal inspections and regulatory actions submitted annually (Form: 5700-33H) to EPA. This form provides information regarding the number of WPS inspections conducted, the types and numbers of violations found, and the number and types of regulatory actions taken during the year. EPA inspection data is obtained from EPA’s Integrated Compliance Information System (ICIS) database. Other information is compiled from data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Agricultural Statistics, 2007 and 2012 Census of Agriculture database.
EPA makes several caveats to the data presented, including: (1) EPA does not require regional offices to enter all regulatory actions into ICIS, so many “informal” actions are not recorded; (2) the data included in the Dashboard do not reflect all compliance monitoring/inspections or enforcement activities, nor the full extent of enforcement activity within a state or tribe; and (3) tribal inspections and enforcement actions conducted under sovereign tribal authority and regulations are not EPA reviewed or reported, and are not included in the Dashboard.
The Dashboard shows data from 2010 to 2014 to provide context at the national level, or within a state or tribe. EPA plans to update the information annually when new data are available (e.g., after annual state and tribal reporting forms are submitted to EPA).
The Dashboard provides interesting information and should be monitored, as many groups will likely use it in support of their unique interests.
More information on the WPS is available in our blog item EPA Publishes Worker Protection Standard Final Rule.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
In a November 2, 2015, Federal Register notice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the final rule revising the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Worker Protection Standard (WPS). EPA previously announced these revisions on September 28, 2015, and stated that it would issue the final rule in the Federal Register within 60 days.
The following are important dates:
- January 4, 2016: The date when the final WPS rule is effective.
- January 4, 2017: The date by which agricultural employers and handler employers will be required to comply with all of the new requirements set forth in the final rule except for the ones listed below.
- January 4, 2018 (Or 180 Days After An EPA Announcement That Training Materials Are Available, Whichever Is Later): The date by which agricultural employers and handler employers will be required to comply with certain new requirements for the content of pesticide safety training for workers and handlers and pesticide safety information display (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. § 170.311(a)(3), 40 C.F.R. § 170.401(c)(3), and 40 C.F.R. § 170.501(c)(3)). EPA states it delayed implementation of the final rule regarding certain training and display materials to provide agricultural employers and handler employers time for such materials to be updated, printed, and distributed as well as to allow time for existing trainers to familiarize themselves with those new materials.
- January 4, 2018: The date by which agricultural employers and handler employers will be required to comply with the requirement that the handler performing an application must immediately suspend a pesticide application if any worker or other person, other than an appropriately trained and equipped handler involved in the application, is in the application exclusion zone described in § 170.405(a)(1) or the area specified in column B of the Table in § 170.405(b)(4) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. 170.505(b)).
EPA also states that it is “committed to a robust outreach, communications and training effort to communicate the new rule requirements to affected WPS stakeholders.” EPA has stated its intent to do the following to facilitate implementation:
- Issue plain language “how to comply” fact sheets and guidance materials.
- Develop compliance assistance materials that are targeted to specific agricultural sectors and rule requirements, such as respirator requirements or the WPS exemptions and exceptions.
- Develop and disseminate new worker and handler training materials, conduct outreach to potentially affected parties, and provide assistance and resources to States and Tribes for WPS implementation.
- Hold Pesticide Regulatory Education Program courses for State and Tribal pesticide program staff that will focus on WPS implementation, and Pesticide Inspector Residential Training courses for State and Tribal pesticide inspectors that will focus on WPS inspection requirements.
The details of the WPS final rule are discussed in Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.’s (B&C®) blog entry EPA Announces Revisions to Its Worker Protection Standard.
For more information, please see B&C’s memorandum Predictions and Outlook for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) 2015 and James V. Aidala Comments on EPA’s Worker Protection Standards. More information is also available on EPA’s Worker Protection Standard webpage.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi and James V. Aidala
On September 28, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced revisions to its worker protection standard. EPA states that these revisions are intended to “enhance the protections provided to agricultural workers, pesticide handlers, and other persons under the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) by strengthening elements of the existing regulation, such as training, notification, pesticide safety and hazard communication information, use of personal protective equipment, and the providing of supplies for routine washing and emergency decontamination.”
Among the changes to the WPS are the following:
- Training: The final rule retains proposed content expansions that have been the subject of considerable discussion and concern (e.g., provisions that EPA intends to reduce take-home exposure) and the requirement for employers to ensure that workers and handlers receive pesticide safety training every year (increased from existing rules that require training every five years). EPA has eliminated the proposed training “grace period,” that would have allowed employers to delay providing full pesticide safety training to workers under certain circumstances.
- Notification: The final rule retains the proposed requirements for employers to: (1) post warning signs around treated areas in outdoor production when the product used has a restricted-entry interval (REI) greater than 48 hours; and (2) provide to workers performing early-entry tasks (i.e., entering a treated area when an REI is in effect), information about the pesticide used in the area where they will work, the specific task(s) to be performed, the personal protective equipment (PPE) required by the labeling, and the amount of time the worker may remain in the treated area. EPA has not promulgated the proposed requirement for employers to keep a record of the information provided to workers performing early-entry tasks.
- Hazard Communication: The final rule requires employers to post pesticide application information and a safety data sheet (SDS) for each pesticide used on the establishment at a central location on the establishment (the “central display”). This is a departure from the proposal to eliminate the existing requirement for a central display of pesticide application-specific information. The final rule also requires the employer to maintain and make available to workers and handlers, their designated representatives, and treating medical personnel upon request, the pesticide application-specific information and the SDSs for pesticides used on the establishment for two years. EPA has eliminated the proposed requirement for the employer to maintain copies of the labeling for each product used on the establishment for two years.
- Requirements During Pesticide Applications: The final rule requires an “application exclusion zone,” that is, the area immediately surrounding the application equipment, from which workers and other persons must be excluded. An application exclusion zone of 100 feet horizontally from the application equipment in all directions applies when the pesticide is applied by any of the following methods: (1) aerially; (2) air blast application; (3) as a spray using a spray quality (droplet spectrum) of smaller than medium (volume median diameter of less than 294 microns); or (4) as a fumigant, smoke, mist, or fog. An application exclusion zone of 25 feet horizontally from the application equipment in all directions applies when the pesticide is sprayed from a height of greater than 12 inches from the planting medium using a spray quality (droplet spectrum) of medium or larger (volume median diameter of 294 microns or greater). This “application exclusion zone” differs from the proposed “entry-restricted areas,” that would have extended a specified distance around the entire treated area during application based on the application equipment used. The final rule requires handlers to suspend application, rather than cease application, if they are aware of any person in the application exclusion zone other than a properly trained and equipped handler involved in the application.
- Minimum Age: The final rule increases the minimum age for handlers and workers performing early-entry tasks from a proposed 16 years old to at least 18 years old. EPA states it increased the minimum age from 16 to 18 based on “comments received and an evaluation of existing literature related to adolescents’ development of maturity and judgment.” EPA provides an exemption from minimum age requirements for adolescents working on an establishment owned by an immediate family member. The final rule does not require the employer to record workers’ or handlers’ birthdates as part of the training record, but does require the employer to verify they meet the minimum age requirements.
- PPE: The final rule cross-references certain Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for respirator use for which employers will be required to comply. In response to comments, the final rule expands the respirators subject to fit testing beyond the proposal to include filtering facepiece respirators. The final rule maintains the existing exception from the handler PPE requirements when using a closed system to transfer or load pesticides, and adopts a general performance standard for closed systems, which differs from the specific design standards based on California’s existing standard for closed systems discussed in the proposal.
EPA received a significant number of comments on the proposed rule, which has generated significant controversy. While it appears that EPA has modified the final WPS in certain respects in response to concerns raised, there remain many provisions that are controversial and will require significant work, with significant costs, by agricultural and handler employees to meet.
Controversy regarding these new requirements is longstanding. At its most simple form, critics of increasing the stringency of the current regulations ask why significant changes were needed after twenty years of greater protection offered by the existing regulatory requirements. In addition, over the intervening years, for a variety of reasons, many (not all) of the most hazardous pesticides have been removed from the market or otherwise are used less. More complex concerns address potential jurisdictional overreaches and the paltry record supporting what some view as expansive and expensive regulatory requirements. Others, not surprisingly, cite the number of reported (and unreported) incidents as proof for the need nonetheless to improve the extent and effectiveness of the current regulations. What EPA has issued here as the final revisions to the regulations attempts to balance these views.
Some believe that, in similar situations, where industry and activist groups criticize an action, albeit for very different reasons, the EPA action at issue must have struck the correct balance of disparate views. This breezy measure of success in an important health protection program such as this rule addresses by definition is not likely to satisfy either perspective, and complaints about the new requirements can be expected to continue, especially about the economic impact of the new requirements for some, and for others, how the occupational risks of pesticides remain too high and deserve even greater restrictions.
Outside the boundaries of the worker protection regulations, some of the underlying logic and regulation of the updated requirements indicate that EPA, at least under the current Administration, will continue its emphasis on the broader goals of environmental justice and protecting “children” from the hazards of pesticide exposure. (For example, among the most controversial elements of the changes is the prohibition on certain activities for those under the age of 18, while beforehand the cutoff age was 16; this seems partly a result of EPA’s attempt to make its policy of prohibiting testing of pesticides on children consistent with its policy of who might be exposed in occupational settings.)
The final rule will become effective 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, but agricultural employers and handler employers will not be required to comply with most of the new requirements in the final rule until 14 months after the effective date.
For more information, please see Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.’s (B&C®) memorandum Predictions and Outlook for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) 2015 and James V. Aidala Comments on EPA’s Worker Protection Standards. More information is also available on EPA’s Worker Protection Standard webpage.