Pesticide Worker Safety

EPA Proposes Stronger Standards for People Applying Riskiest Pesticides

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On August 5, 2015 the EPA issued a proposal to revise the Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule. The rule would help keep our communities safe, protect the environment and reduce risk to those applying pesticides. Pesticide use would be safer with increased supervision and oversight.The proposed changes will help ensure that the riskiest pesticides are used safely.

EPA is accepting comments on the proposal until January 22, 2016. To comment, please see docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0183 at 

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What is EPA announcing?

The EPA is proposing stronger training and certification standards for pesticide applicators who are certified to apply the riskiest pesticides, known as restricted use pesticides (RUPs). Federal regulations require applicators to be certified in order to apply RUPs. Additionally, RUPs may  be used only by, or under the direct supervision of, certified applicators. The goal is to reduce the likelihood of harm from the misapplication of RUPs and ensure a consistent level of protection among states.

Learn more about certification for pesticide applicators

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Who would this proposed rule affect, and how?

There are approximately one million pesticide applicators in the United States using RUPs and the proposed rule would impact all of those applicators, including commercial pesticide applicators and private pesticide applicators, such as farmers and ranchers. 

The proposed rule would also impact states and tribes that operate certification programs. The impact on applicators and states and tribes would vary based on the current state or tribal requirements.

Most states already have in place some or many of the elements of the rule that EPA is proposing, such as mandatory recertification, specialized certification to use high risk application methods (aerial and fumigation), more stringent certification requirements for private applicators, and training for noncertified applicators.

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How do these proposed revisions differ from the current Certification and Training Rule?

The proposed rule:

  • Enhances applicator competency standards to ensure that RUPs are used safely.
  • Establishes a first time-ever nation-wide minimum age of 18 for certified applicators and persons working under their direct supervision.
  • Requires all applicators to renew certifications every 3 years.
  • Requires additional specialized certifications for people using high-risk application methods (fumigation and aerial).
  • Requires first time annual safety training and increased oversight for persons working under the direct supervision of a certified applicator. Training includes reducing take-home pesticide exposure to protect worker families.
  • Promotes interstate recognition of applicator licenses to reduce the administrative burden for businesses that operate in multiple states.
  • Provides expanded options for establishing certification programs in Indian Country that acknowledge tribal sovereignty.
  • Clarifies and streamlines requirements for states, tribes, and federal agencies to administer their own certification programs.

Additional information on the differences between the proposed revisions and current rule is available in the Current Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule vs. Proposed Changes comparison chart.

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Which pesticides are included in this proposed rule?

EPA classifies the most acutely toxic pesticides or those needing to be applied with special care as “restricted use,” which means they may be bought and applied only by a certified applicator or someone working under his or her direct supervision. RUPs are not available for purchase or use by the general public.

State pesticide regulatory agencies issue certifications to pesticide applicators who demonstrate, under an EPA-approved program, that they can use the products safely. Many state pesticide regulatory agencies require applicator certification to use all pesticides commercially, whether or not they are RUPs.

EPA registers pesticides for use on specific sites and with specific limitations. For example, a product registered for use only on apples may not be used legally on grapes, or an insecticide registered for "outdoor use" may not legally be used inside a building.

For a list of restricted use pesticides, see the Restricted Use Products Report.

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Would the changes impact pesticide use in and around my home by a professional pest control applicator, if they are finalized?

Yes, if restricted use pesticides are being used, the stronger certification standards would apply for pesticide applicators who are certified to apply them. Also, because most states already require commercial applicators, such as professional pest control workers, to be certified whether or not they use RUPs, a pesticide applicator you hire, under the proposed rule, would likely have to demonstrate they meet the new competency standards that emphasize safe practices.

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How does EPA ensure the safety of pesticides? What kind of restrictions does EPA place on pesticide use?

EPA takes very seriously our duty to ensure that, when used according to label instructions, pesticides can be used safely. We rely on risk assessment processes to evaluate the potential for human health and environmental impacts from pesticide use, and to make decisions about pesticide regulation, both new and existing. New pesticides must be evaluated before they can enter the market. EPA uses extensive human health and environmental fate and effects data to determine specific requirements on the label. Existing pesticides must be re-evaluated periodically to ensure that they continue to meet current safety standards. Learn more about the pesticide registration process.

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How did EPA develop the revisions?

EPA has been engaging stakeholders both formally and informally on ideas for the proposal since the 1990s. EPA has received extensive feedback and developed the revisions with input from state regulatory partners and other organizations and individuals through numerous stakeholder meetings and other outreach. This proposal is a synthesis of the feedback received.

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What are next steps for finalizing the rule?

After the public comment period, EPA will review and consider the public comments, and where needed, will change the proposed requirements. EPA will draft the final regulation which will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of Management and Budget. When these reviews are complete, the EPA will issue the final regulation.

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