EPA Issues New Rule to Protect Farmworkers from Pesticide Risks

September 30, 2015

Against a backdrop of higher-profile rules, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled a new Worker Protection Standard (WPS) on September 28 that imposes additional requirements on farm owners to protect farmworkers and their families from pesticide risk. The final rule becomes effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, slated to occur in the coming weeks.

The rule updates the decades-old WPS by tightening existing training, records retention, pesticide application, decontamination and signage requirements, and will prohibit farmworkers under the age of 18 from applying pesticides. It also establishes anti-retaliation provisions to protect workers who tell authorities about potential noncompliance. A chart outlining the changes can be found on the EPA’s website.

Compliance with the new rule, which was issued under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), is expected to cost between $60.2 million and $66.9 million dollars a year, or about $5 per farmworker, according to EPA estimates. In contrast, the EPA expects the annual benefits (in terms of avoided, acute poisoning events) to total between $0.6 million and $2.6 million dollars a year in saved healthcare and other costs. Various trade groups have suggested that the EPA has significantly understated the true cost of the rule, while failing to quantify the proposed benefits.

In any event, while the costs may seem negligible compared to those associated with the EPA’s high-profile climate change rules, they are significant for the nation’s smaller farm owners. Early signals from trade groups suggest that legal challenges to the new rule may be forthcoming.