On September 28, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its final revisions to the 1992 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) regulations. The WPS is designed to protect agricultural employees from exposure to agricultural pesticides, both general and restricted use pesticides.
The new rules announced by EPA last week will bar almost anyone under 18 years of age from handling pesticides and will require buffer zones around the treated fields to protect workers from drift and fumes. However, farm owners and their family members would be exempt from certain rules, including the minimum age requirement.
EPA administrator Gina McCarthy says between 1,800 and 3,000 cases of pesticide exposure are reported each year at farms, nurseries and other ag operations covered by current rules. She says the current rules haven't been working and many cases of exposure aren't reported. So EPA decided to strengthen the 20-year-old WPS regulations.
How will these changes in WPS rules affect Iowa farmers?
To answer that question, Wallaces Farmer turned to two Iowa State University Extension pesticide safety education program specialists. Kristine Schaefer is the program manager for the Pesticide Safety Education Program at ISU. Betsy Buffington is an ISU Extension program specialist who works with Schaefer and helps conduct pesticide applicator training in Iowa. They provide the following information and observations.
The WPS must be followed when pesticide use is part of the production of agricultural plants on a farm, forest, nursery or greenhouse. The WPS does not apply when pesticides are used on pastures, to control rodents, as bait in traps, on harvested plants, for public pest control, on livestock, on home fruit, vegetable gardens or lawns, and for non-crop areas such as roads.
Major changes to the regulation include:
•Requiring pesticide safety training at one-year intervals and expanding the existing pesticide safety training content.
•Eliminating the "grace period" that allowed workers to enter a treated area to perform WPS tasks before receiving full pesticide safety training.
•Mandatory recordkeeping: Records of application-specific pesticide information, as well as pesticide safety training, must be kept for two years.
•Minimum age requirement: Children under 18 are prohibited from handling pesticides.
•Expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides.
•No-entry application-exclusion zones up to 100 feet surrounding application equipment during pesticide application.
•Availability of pesticide application information and safety data sheets at central location or by request.
•Specific amounts of water to be used for routine washing, emergency eye flushing and other decontamination, including eye wash systems for handlers at pesticide mixing/loading sites.
The exemption for farm owners and their immediate family from certain WPS requirements on their own farms will continue, including the minimum age requirement.
For more information on the WPS revisions visit http://www2.epa.gov/pesticide-worker-safety/revisions-worker-protection-standard.