U.S. Farmworker Protection Standards Delayed
May 12, 1994
A compromise bill signed by President Clinton in April
1994 has again delayed the implementation of rules created
to protect agricultural workers from pesticide exposure. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had planned to implement the
protections guaranteed under the Worker Protection Standard (WPS)
on April 21, 1994, but pressure from farmers and agribusiness
persuaded Congress to postpone the date until January 1, 1995.
Opponents complain that the rules are excessive and too costly to
implement, but farmworkers contend that the standard is reasonable
and long overdue. Farmworkers have been systematically excluded
from legislation that governs standards of health and safety in
the workplace, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act
(OSHA). One small victory was won in 1988 when the OSHA standard
mandating that toilets, handwashing facilities and clean drinking
water be provided by employers with more than 10 employees was
expanded to include farmworkers.
Two protections were not affected by the compromise bill
and issued as scheduled: longer reentry intervals following
pesticide application; and improved personal protective equipment
requirements for handlers and early entry workers. Congress
postponed all other provisions including notice to workers about
applications, safety training and dissemination of information
about pesticides, and safety requirements for protective clothing.
Pressure to delay enforcement mounted steadily as the
April deadline approached. In a letter sent to the White House on
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA)
letterhead, 42 state agencies expressed their disappointment with
the EPA's "continued lack of regard for our concern as state
regulators." The signatories warned Clinton that enforcement of
the farmworker protection rule would be disastrous at this time.
"It is simply impossible for us as state regulators and farmers to
implement this program nationwide as currently designed and
scheduled." NASDA requested that enforcement of the farmworker
protections be delayed until October 23, 1995.
Congress responded to NASDA's concerns by postponing
implementation until January 1995. Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Mo, a
cosponsor of the compromise bill, has stated that it gives the
EPA, farmers and agribusiness ample time to "work out the details
and make sure these new standards are indeed needed." Congress
maintains that the nine month suspension allows enough time for
the EPA to provide necessary training and safety manuals to help
farmers comply with the regulations. Materials had not been
distributed by the EPA in time for the original start up date.
Despite claims that there is a low incidence of pesticide
poisoning in the U.S., evidence shows that a significant number of
farmworkers suffer from pesticide-related illnesses. According to
a recent report from the General Accounting Office, 4 million
people may be exposed each year to pesticides. The EPA estimates
that 20,000 people are poisoned. Farmworker advocates say that
figures are low because many poisonings go unreported, especially
since farmworkers may often have no health insurance or
transportation to the hospital.
People of color suffer a disproportionate number of
pesticide poisonings. A study by the U.S. Department of Labor
found that of the more than two million hired farmworkers in the
United States, 77% identify themselves as members of an ethnic or
racial minority group. This combined with the structural and
social conditions that dominate life in the U.S. agricultural
sector increases the risk of pesticide exposure for ethnic
The Farmworker Justice Fund, Inc. anticipates further
attacks on the WPS when Congress holds hearings on the rules this
summer. The fund is asking people to contact their legislators
urging them to support the standard without further delays, while
directing the EPA to strengthen the protections thereby preventing
unnecessary injury and illness.
Sources: Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News, March 23 and March 16,
1994; The News & Observer, November, 10, 1993; Confronting
Environmental Racism, edited by Robert Bullard, 1993.
Contact: Farmworker Justice Fund, Inc., 2001 S Street, N.W., Suite
210, Washington, D.C., 20009, phone (202) 462-8192; fax (202)
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