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News Releases from Region 02

EPA Highlights Importance of Updated Standards to Protect the Health of Puerto Rican Farmworkers

Regional Administrator Meets with Members of the Agriculture Community in Utuado

Contact Information: 
Brenda Reyes (reyes.brenda@epa.gov)

(San Juan, PR – December 8, 2016) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck and Carmen Guerrero Pérez, the Director of the EPA’s Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, met with farmworkers, health specialists, rural extension officers, members of the agricultural sector, and professors and students from the University of Puerto Rico in Utuado at a meeting on Tuesday, November 29, to discuss stronger protections for farmworkers and pesticide handlers required by the recently updated Worker Protection Standard. EPA released new federal regulations in September 2015, which will go into effect in January 2017.  

 “There are approximately 30,000 farmworkers in Puerto Rico, and every farmworker deserves a safe and healthy work environment,” said Carmen Guerrero Pérez, the Director of the EPA’s Caribbean Environmental Protection Division. “EPA is committed to making sure farmworkers, farmworkers families, and pesticide applicators are not exposed to toxic pesticides.”

EPA's Worker Protection Standard rule provides stronger protections for the nation's two million agricultural workers and pesticide handlers working on farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses. The updated EPA regulation strengthens requirements for training, notification, pesticide safety and hazard communication, as well as the use of personal protective equipment and the availability of supplies for routine washing and emergency decontamination. This new standard will protect the health of Puerto Rican farmworkers and the rest of the nation’s two million farmworkers, reminding everyone that we can have a vibrant agricultural economy and healthy farmworkers. The revisions announced in September 2015 were the first changes made to the rule in 24 years.

Agriculture is an almost $550 million industry in Puerto Rico and the Commonwealth has over 13,000 farms on almost 570,000 acres.  In addition to being profitable, these farms also need to make sure that the health of farmworkers is consistently protected. The Worker Protection Standard provisions will help ensure that farmworkers nationwide receive annual safety training; that children under the age of 18 are prohibited from handling pesticides; and that workers are aware of the protections they are afforded and have the tools needed to protect themselves and their families from pesticide exposure. Every farm will need to comply with the new standard.  In Puerto Rico, this standard will be enforced by the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture, with technical support from the EPA.

For workers and handlers of pesticide products on farms, in forests and nurseries and greenhouses, EPA will require:

  • The minimum age for pesticide handlers and early-entry workers has been established at 18 years of age – previously there was no minimum age.
  • Annual mandatory training for farmworkers so they can be informed on how to protect themselves and their families from pesticide exposures. Previously, trainings happened once every five years in Puerto Rico.
  • Each farmworker must now be provided with at least one gallon of water at the beginning of each work period and handlers must get three gallons of water for decontamination. No quantities of water were specifically spelled out previously.
  • Farmworkers will now be trained on safety before they go out into the field to work. Previously, farms had up to five days to offer the training.
  • Improved communication and displaying of information related to the application of pesticides at farms.   
  • Employers must now provide respirator testing and training and medical evaluations that conform to Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for any pesticide handler required to wear any respirator as specified by the pesticide labeling. Recordkeeping of completion of respirator testing, handler training and medical evaluations is now also required.
  • Each farm must now provide a system capable of delivering 0.4 gallons of water for eye washing per minute for 15 minutes, or six gallons of water able to flow for 15 minutes if pesticide handlers use products requiring eye protection or use a pressurized closed system.

Additionally, EPA is making improvements to the training programs. By better protecting agricultural workers, EPA anticipates fewer pesticide exposure incidents among farmworkers and their family members. Fewer incidents means a healthier workforce and avoiding lost wages and medical bills.

View the video to learn more about EPA’s revised worker protection standards:

Here are thoughts from a former farmworker on EPA’s revised worker protection standards: