MARCH 31, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: John Zambenini (937)554-4583
EPA pesticide safety changes welcome, farmworker coalition says, but fall short
Ag Worker Protection Standard update overdue, working children still not protected
RALEIGH — A group of North Carolina farmworker advocates praised proposed EPA changes to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, but said the measures represent only a partial improvement for workers’ health and safety. The North Carolina Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN) announced Monday its support of upcoming changes designed to reduce workers’ risk of pesticide exposure. But the measures, now open for public comment, still fall short, advocates say.
Coalition leaders say changes to the 22-year-old standard address inhumane working conditions where pesticide exposure is a significant risk, but stop short of protecting children or monitoring the long-term harm of exposure.
“For too long, the people who pick our food have been forced to put their own health and their children’s at risk, just by going to work,” Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate at FAN member organization Toxic Free North Carolina said. “We’re pleased the EPA proposed strengthening this outdated safety standard. But the It is not immediately clear whether the changes will sufficiently address documentation loopholes that stymied the high-profile Ag-Mart case concerning three children born in 2005 with severe birth defects. Their mothers worked in tomato fields for Ag-Mart when they were pregnant, and the birth defects were believed to be linked to pesticide exposure. The proposed new regulations do call for growers to keep records of pesticide applications, as well as more frequent training for applicators, though no record of when workers return to treated fields.
The EPA’s proposal has renewed community efforts to address unsafe working conditions. “We’re pleased that the EPA is proposing strengthening protections for youth who work in the fields,” Carol Brooke of the NC Justice Center said, “but believe that children under 18 should not be exposed to the hazards of handling pesticides.”
Nadeen Bir, Advocacy and Organizing Director, of Student Action with Farmworkers said the long overdue update must be part of a broader conversation about farmworker issues. “Enforcement of the standard is always a challenge,” Bir said. “It’s made worse by workers’ fear of retaliation if they come forward about violations.”
The estimated 1-2.4 million farmworkers in the United States often live in fear of wages being withheld or documentation being confiscated if they report violations or abuse.
“The proposed rule is positive, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle,” Bir said. The comment period ends June 17th. FAN is calling on the public to voice support for the proposal, and for stronger protections for children and youth in particular. A full copy of the proposed rule, and instructions for commenting can be found on the EPA’s website at http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/safety/workers/proposed/index.html.
The coalition is calling for continued scrutiny of policies that affect the lives of farmworkers. Part of the challenge the WPS changes present is sifting through the details of the lengthy new policy and anticipating the needs of workers. Its ramifications are not yet completely known, advocates said. Farmworker Advocacy Network is an award-winning coalition committed to recognizing the humanity and leadership of farmworkers, upon whom our agricultural system is dependent, and bringing their concerns to the public. www.ncfan.org