If the Environmental Protection Agency follows through with a reform now under consideration, teenage farmworkers and other operating minors would once again be allowed to handle dangerous pesticides while on the job.
The EPA is now reevaluating a 2015 rule that tightened safety standards for farmworkers. In particular, the agency is considering changing or scrapping the requirement that anyone working with pesticides in agriculture be at least 18 years old.
Doctors had called for those restrictions to be put in place because pesticides can increase the risk of cancer or impact brain development in children.
The EPA may also tweak or do away with the age requirements of another recent regulation, which spells out who can be certified to be an applicator of the chemicals that the EPA categorizes as the most toxic. That could make it legal for minors to work with what are known as “restricted-use” pesticides, like arsenic and methyl bromide, in a host of industries beyond simply agriculture, such as landscaping and pest control.
Restricted-use pesticides are not sold to the public for general utilize because of how dangerous they can be to people and the environment.
The EPA placed two notices of the health risks the restructuring of the federal register in late December, while Congress was wrestling with its massive modernise of the tax system. The organization said it was taking a second look at the rules and “as part of the President’s Regulatory Reform Agenda, ” which takes aim at regulations “appropriate for repeal, substitution or modification.”
Both of the pesticide regulations were stiffened during former President Barack Obama’s second term. The EPA’s reforms were being gradually phased in to give employers and country regulators time to adjust. The age requirement for agriculture run was implemented this year. The age requirement for pesticide applicators hasn’t gone into consequence yet.
The Trump White House has often boasted about the many regulations it has stripped away during his first year in agency, many of them environmental rules from the EPA, one of the president’s favorite administrative punching bags. But the proposal to peel back safety standards for child farm worker was issued without any public fanfare.
“I think that there’s a pretty strong likelihood that if the minimum age is eliminated or lowered, there will be more people get sick, ” said William Jordan, a former EPA official who worked on developing the tighter pesticide regulations. “When people are handling dangerous pesticides, they need to make sure they know what they’re doing.”
Jordan said when it is necessary to certain restricted-use pesticides, even“a small amount like a teaspoon can kill you.”
The official currently overseeing EPA’s handling of the health risks revises couldn’t be reached for comment. Under Trump, the EPA is run by Scott Pruitt, who often sparred with the agency as the attorney general of Oklahoma by suing it 13 times.
Disclosure shapes filed with Congress is demonstrating that the American Farm Bureau, the leading industry group for growers, lobbied the agency on the agricultural pesticides regulation last year. A spokesman for the group didn’t respond to requests for comment.
I think that there’s a pretty strong likelihood that if the minimum age is eliminated or lowered, there will be more people getting sick. William Jordan, former EPA official blockquote >
The two regulations in question — the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule — have been on the EPA’s books for decades. But until reforms were undertaken during the Obama years, neither regulation included the minimum age requirements that environmental and employee safety groups had long asked for.
The regulation of how pesticides are managed generally falls to the EPA, as opposed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that enforces safety rules in most workplaces. The EPA’s reforms specifically exempted the immediate family members of farm owners, so that children working on family farms could still manage pesticides if their parents wanted them to.
The reforms were meant to protect minors operating as for-hire employees, many of them migrants who may speak limited English, as well as the surrounding communities. Benefactors of the age stipulations argue that younger teens don’t have the maturity to make an informed decision about whether or not to handle dangerous compounds. They likewise note that younger kids are more likely to mishandle them, endangering themselves and others.
When the reforms were being considered in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out in support of them, listing a host of fears with children handling pesticides. The EPA “must recognize that teens under the age of 18 are still developing in critical physical and emotional areas, ” the doctors’ group wrote. “Many pesticides are highly toxic to the brain and reproductive system and will make long-term damage to those systems.”
One reason growers may want to remove the minimum age requirements is that teens often work for less fund than older employees. The possible of reopening such work to minors has infuriated security advocates who say young farmworkers are already vulnerable.
“It’s outrageous, ” said Andrea Delgado, legislative administrator at Earthjustice, an environmental statute group.
Delgado’s and other watchdog groups are concerned with another part of agricultural purposes regulation that EPA may be gutting, known as the “right to know” provision. The reforms under Obama guaranteed that a farmworker could designate a third party to obtain information from the employer about what chemicals construction workers had been exposed to. That third party could be a lawyer.
There are very hazardous substances that they and their families are exposed to. Virginia Ruiz, Farmworker Justice blockquote >
Workers in industries other than agriculture are already entitled to have a third-party designated as their representative under OSHA regulations. But according to the EPA’s notice in the federal register, the agency has determined that “further consideration” of the right-to-know provision in agriculture is necessary.
Virginia Ruiz, an occupational health expert with the group Farmworker Justice, said such information is vital in the event a worker gets sick due to contact with substances. She said it’s also critical that a third party be able to access the information, made how many farmworkers don’t speak English, are transient, or are simply too afraid to confront their boss.
As the rule was being drafted, opponents was contended that the right-to-know provision could lead to corporate espionage, with growers spying on one another. But its benefactors, like Ruiz, say the real fear is probably suits brought by employees or nearby residents over chemical use.
“This is a right that all workers have under OSHA: you can designate someone to access your exposure records, ” Ruiz said. “Farmworkers shouldn’t be exempt from this right just because of where they work. There are very hazardous compounds that they and their families are exposed to.”
The federal rulemaking process typically takes times. If the Trump administration wants to unwind the pesticide regulations, it will have to go through the same stairs of public comment and stakeholder outreach that the Obama administration went through in order to implement them — only to reach the opposite judgment.
That’s a likelihood that Jordan, who retired from the EPA in 2016, has come to expect.
“I thought that these were two of the even stronger rulemakings from the pesticide area to come out of the Obama administration, ” he said. “Knowing the Trump agenda to resist the deliberations of the previous administration, I’m not surprised by this.”