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EPA Proposes Rule to Update Pesticide Application Exclusion Zone Requirements

Proposal makes important, targeted improvements to the Application Exclusion Zone requirements to provide greater workability while continuing to protect farm workers

10/24/2019
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WASHINGTON (Oct. 24, 2019) — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing narrow updates to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) pesticide regulation to improve the long-term success of the agency’s Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) requirements. The targeted updates would improve enforceability for state regulators and reduce regulatory burdens for farmers. It would also maintain public health protections for farm workers and other individuals near agricultural establishments that could be exposed to agricultural pesticide applications. The proposed updates are consistent with the newly enacted 2019 Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA).

“EPA’s proposal would enhance the agency’s Application Exclusion Zone provisions by making them more effective and easier to implement,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “In listening to input from stakeholders, our proposal will make targeted updates, maintaining safety requirements to protect the health of those in farm country, while providing greater flexibility for farmers.”

“President Trump made a commitment to our farmers to reduce burdensome regulations, and this is another example of him making good on that promise. This action will make it easier for our farmers and growers to comply with the Application Exclusion Zone provisions, providing them with the flexibility to do what they do best - feed, fuel, and clothe the world,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

“I commend Administrator Wheeler for clarifying the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) requirements," said Congressman Mike Conaway (TX-11). "This is a positive development for our nation’s farmers, farm workers, and their State regulatory partners. Unlike the last administration’s misguided regulations, AEZ is now an enforceable rule that maintains worker protections without additional burden to farmers. While there is still more to do to improve the Worker Protection Standards, I appreciate EPA’s efforts and look forward to continuing this important work.”

“NASDA appreciates the EPA’s continued steps to prioritize worker safety. Additional and improved guidelines for implementing pesticide safety standards are always welcomed, as NASDA members hold highly the responsibility of protecting our nation’s agricultural workforce,” said National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) CEO Dr. Barb Glenn. “We thank EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for mapping out the new rules with NASDA, as each member implements the regulations and intricacies within them.”

“I applaud EPA’s action to provide growers relief from a very cumbersome requirement by proposing changes to the Worker Protection Standard consistent with our remarks submitted during a 2017 comment period,” said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black. “Our growers go to great lengths to comply with the WPS only to be frustrated with its complexity. Updating and simplifying the Application Exclusion Zone provision within this rule will strengthen enforceability for state regulators and better support outreach and education efforts by research partners, all while reducing regulatory burdens for our farmers.”

“The American Farm Bureau Federation welcomes EPA’s effort to refine and improve the application exclusion zone requirement. It’s part of the worker protection standards rule, which was recently revised in a way that has proved challenging for many farmers," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. "Every effort to make the rule more sensible and practical for farmers while safeguarding workers is important. EPA’s step today to assure that only those areas under a farmer’s control are enforceable is a common-sense clarification, among others designed to reflect on-the-ground farming practices. AFBF commends Administrator Wheeler and the agency for this common-sense and welcome revision.”

EPA continues to support the AEZ requirement. The agency is holding a 90-day public comment period and is seeking input on select updates that were publicly suggested to EPA by both state pesticide agencies responsible for enforcing the provision and agricultural stakeholders since the AEZ requirement was adopted in 2015. The proposed updates are also consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s comments during a May 2017 meeting of EPA’s Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee.

Specifically, EPA is proposing to:

  • Modify the AEZ so it is applicable and enforceable only on a farm owner’s property, where a farm owner can lawfully exercise control over employees and bystanders who could fall within the AEZ. As currently written, the off-farm aspect of this provision has proven very difficult for state regulators to enforce. These proposed changes would enhance both enforcement and implementation of the AEZ for state regulators and farm owners respectively. Off-farm bystanders would still be protected from pesticide applications thanks to the existing “do not contact” requirement that prohibits use in a manner that would contact unprotected individuals.
  • Exempt immediate family members of farm owners from all aspects of the AEZ requirement. This will allow farm owners and their immediate family members to decide whether to stay in their homes or other enclosed structures on their property during certain pesticide applications, rather than compelling them to leave even when they feel safe remaining.
  • Add clarifying language that pesticide applications that are suspended due to individuals entering an AEZ may be resumed after those individuals have left the AEZ.
  • Simplify the criteria for deciding whether pesticide applications are subject to the 25- or 100-foot AEZ.

EPA will be accepting public comments on the proposed updates for 90 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.

Additional information: www.epa.gov/pesticide-worker-safety/agricultural-worker-protection-standard-wps 

Background

The original WPS regulation was enacted in 1992 under EPA’s Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) authorities to protect farm workers from pesticide exposures in production agriculture. The WPS requires owners and employers on agricultural establishments and commercial pesticide-handling establishments to protect employees on farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses from occupational exposure to agricultural pesticides.

In 2015, EPA finalized various significant revisions to the 1992 WPS. Among the 2015 revisions was a new provision requiring agricultural employers to keep non-applicator workers and all other individuals out of an area called the “application exclusion zone” (AEZ) during outdoor pesticide applications. The AEZ is the area surrounding pesticide application equipment that exists only during outdoor production pesticide applications. The AEZ will remain 25-feet in all directions for ground pesticide applications, and 100-feet in all directions for outdoor aerial, air blast, air-propelled, fumigant, smoke, mist and fog pesticide applications.

The initial intent of the AEZ was for it to act as an extra buffer zone supplementing existing WPS provisions for farm workers to better protect them and other on-farm persons that could be contacted by pesticides. To improve enforceability, workability, and the long-term success of the AEZ requirement, EPA is issuing this proposed rule that makes modest, clarifying updates to the AEZ.