Attorney General Becerra Urges EPA to Withdraw Plan Permitting Workers and Families to be Exposed to Pesticides
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, as part of a coalition of seven attorneys general, today filed a comment letter with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opposing its proposed rule that would remove critical safeguards for agricultural workers and the public regarding the application of dangerous pesticides. The rule would weaken the protections provided by the 2015 Worker Protection Standards, which established application exclusion zone requirements for the area surrounding pesticide application and required suspension of pesticide application if workers or members of the public came within the designated area. Those requirements protect vulnerable groups including minority or low-income populations, child farmworkers, and farmworker families. In the proposed weakened rule, EPA alters these requirements to allow pesticide application even in the presence of workers and persons nearby on adjacent properties.
“Day in and day out, families enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables because of agricultural workers, many of whom are immigrants living in California,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Agricultural workers are the backbone of our nation, supporting the agricultural industry and our food supplies while generating massive economic benefits for our communities. Rest assured, we’ll stand up for these workers, who deserve respect, dignity, and commonsense protections as they carry out their important work.”
In the comment letter, the attorneys general denounce the EPA’s failure to protect the public – especially agricultural workers – from the health risks of dangerous pesticides. The agricultural sector ranks among the most hazardous industries nationally, with workers experiencing particularly high rates of injuries and illness. Exposure to harmful levels of pesticides causes adverse effects to farmworkers, pesticide handlers, and their families. Acute symptoms from overexposure to pesticides vary, and can range from mild skin irritation to more severe effects, including headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and impaired vision. Severe acute exposures can result in seizures, respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, and death. Chronic exposure may result in increased instances of cancer, including blood cancers, prostate cancer, and lung cancer, as well as respiratory and neurological effects, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and Parkinson’s disease. Pesticides can also cause harm to the children of farmworkers; exposure is associated with increased birth defects, fetal defects, and delayed mental and behavior development.
In the comment letter, the attorneys general urge EPA to withdraw the proposal, asserting that the proposal violates the Administrative Procedure Act. They raise concerns that the proposed rule:
- Reflects unjustified and unsupported departures from EPA’s prior position under the 2015 Worker Protection Standards;
- Includes insufficient economic analysis which fails to justify the proposed revisions; and
- Ignores the agency’s obligation to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse effects of this policy change on minority and low-income populations.
Attorney General Becerra has stood firm to fight for protections for farmworkers and their families. In June 2018, after Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit against the EPA over its decision to suspend critical safeguards for agricultural workers, the EPA backed down and announced that it would implement the safeguards protecting against exposure to pesticides. In August 2019, Attorney General Becerra again sued the EPA over its failure to regulate pesticides after the EPA refused to make a required safety finding for the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos.
Attorney General Becerra filed the comments as part of a coalition including the attorneys general of New York, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington.
A copy of the comment letter can be found here.