Groups Ask EPA Administrator to Protect Farmworker Communities,
For Immediate Release
(Washington, DC, June 18, 2009) Farmworker unions, support groups, and worker advocacy organizations today asked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to stop the pesticide poisoning of farmworker communities and uphold the Obama administration’s commitment to environmental justice. Citing a long EPA history of “inhumane neglect of toxic pesticide effects on farmworker community health,” the groups asked the Administrator to amend a recent May 2009 decision that allows the continued use of hazardous soil fumigant pesticides. The chemicals when used in chemically treated crop production, such as tomatoes, carrots, strawberries and nuts, escape into the environment and drift into communities where the families and children of farmworkers live and play.
The letter, signed by 30 groups from across the country, says that the new fumigants policy “continues an outdated EPA approach to pesticide regulation that adopts unrealistic and unenforceable standards as risk mitigation measures, in an age of safer, greener approaches to agricultural pest management.”
EPA announced its decision May 27, 2009 to allow continued use of toxic soil fumigants with modified safety measures, falling far short of safety advocate efforts to adopt more stringent use restrictions and chemical bans. The rule was first proposed in July 2008, but weakened as it was finalized by EPA under industry pressure. Advocates believe that the country can do better to phase out the uses of highly hazardous chemicals that have devastating impact on exposed workers and communities in which they are used, and advance green technologies and organic practices.
Pesticides affected by the decision include chloropicrin, dazomet, metam sodium/potassium (including methyl isothiocyanate or MITC), methyl bromide. Fumigants are associated with a range of acute respiratory and central nervous system effects, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, tremors and incoordination, muscle weakness, and skin irritation. Long term effects can include brain damage and seizures.
In releasing the decision in May, Administrator Jackson said, “With new restrictions, we’re allowing the continued use of fumigant pesticides without risking human health and the environment.”
Key to the EPA’s policy is a “buffer zone” requirement that is intended to establish restricted areas that are subject to chemical drift and therefore should be unoccupied. Advocates criticize the agency’s buffer zone provision as severely limited and question its enforceability. Of specific concern, is the provision that allows residential areas (including housing, commercial buildings, and other indoor and outdoor areas that people occupy) in the buffer zone if, “The occupants provide written agreement that they will voluntarily vacate the buffer zone during the entire buffer zone period.” Advocates believe workers will (i) feel pressured to sign such waivers for fear of loss of employment, (ii) not have adequate information with which to make informed choices, and (iii) be subject to evacuations during chemical releases. The groups cite the evacuation waiver as a dangerous chemicals policy precedent that would for the first time be used only in farmworker and underserved communities.
Since it was first proposed in July 2008, EPA has weakened the proposed rule by: eliminating home testing priority to reentry except for high concentrations of methyl bromide; reducing reentry times for workers removing fumigant tarps from 24 to 2 hours after perforation; allowing buffer zones to overlap, affecting the people who live closest to the fields; and, no longer requiring air monitoring (except for methyl bromide), instead allowing workers to experience exposure symptoms before triggering additional protections.
Photo by the LA Times.
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