EPA’s New Farmworker Pesticide Standards Leave Unanswered Questions

“Of the 35,500 farms in New York alone – only 22 were inspected last fiscal year (NYSDEC) – 14 received violations – 6 received warnings with no fines?”

A. Steiner


EPA_FarmworkerNovember 19, 2015 |

Raucous laughter fills a small communal kitchen as ten men shout and joke with each other in Spanish after a long day of picking apples on an orchard in Orleans County in Western New York.

They’re playing a game of charades. But instead of pantomiming movie titles or celebrities, the men are acting out symptoms of acute pesticide exposure, which include things like rashes, headaches, vomiting, and eye irritation.

The game is part of a training put on by the Worker Justice Center—a labor advocacy group—to teach workers about pesticide safety and their rights. In person trainings like these will soon be more frequent on farms, now that the EPA has released updated standards for farmworker protection that include requirements for annual training. The update—announced this fall—is the first time the agency has changed its Worker Protection Standards in 23 years.

Part 1: 

Part 2: 

Regulators and farmworker advocates say the changes to these standards are overdue, but some groups representing farmers object to the change. Both sides see challenges ahead for implementing and enforcing the standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each year there are 10,000 to 20,000 incidents of pesticide poisoning for people work on farms, nurseries, and commercial forest land. Advocacy groups say there may be many more. In addition to symptoms caused by acute exposure, the EPA is concerned that repeated, low level exposure to pesticides may have long-term health effects.

When new regulations kick in early 2017, farmers will be required comply with tightened safety measures.  The updated standards include measures such as expanded requirements for no-entry zones to protect  workers from pesticide overspray, expanded access to information about pesticides, changes to personal protection equipment standards, a minimum age requirement for working with pesticides (no children under 18), and more.

Training is key to safety

One of the biggest changes is the mandatory annual training—it used to be required every five years. Paola Betchart of the Worker Justice Center explains pesticide exposure is preventable if you know how to protect yourself. The new regulations expand the types of the things workers must learn in training, including instructions to reduce pesticides on work clothing that may come home with them at the end of the work day.

The new standards require an EPA-trained certified trainer to stay in the room after playing training videos to ask and answer questions. This is key, says Betchart.

“The quality of the training is important, because if they just see one video that is very old, some of them they don’t get all the full information,” she says.

National farm industry representatives don’t believe annual trainings are needed, especially if workers passed training exams in the past. “To me, that seems to be a bit wasteful,” says Daren Coppock, President and CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association.

He sees it as just another rule that state and federal governments impose on agriculture, straining their businesses in many small ways, what he calls a “death by a thousand cuts.”

But says Judith Enck, EPA administrator for the region that includes New York State, the EPA wants to ensure safety information is top of mind for farmworkers. “Five years is just far too long to remember vital information,” Enck says.

The risk of speaking up

At their recent training, the group of New York apple pickers said they’ve had symptoms, but aren’t sure if they were from allergies or pesticides. Sometimes, they’re similar. And they didn’t know where to find out which chemicals were used in their fields and what their effects were. (Current EPA standards require that information be available to them.)

An apple picker named Isabel (we’ve agreed to call her by her first name), recalls a time she and a group of coworkers noticed sprayers working about ten rows away. She says they felt droplets of pesticides sprinkling down on them and later experienced nausea and headaches, but were told the substance wasn’t toxic.

But when training or other safety measures are inadequate, it can be hard for farmworkers to do anything about it, for fear of risking their jobs.

“We’re afraid that if we speak out, if we say that they treat us poorly, they won’t bring us back to the farm,” said one man, named Juan who we’ve agreed to only call by his first name.

EPA’s Enck says one goal of the updated standards is to protect against retaliation for whistleblowers.

“You and I are not exposed to pesticides when we show up to work every day, neither should farmworkers. They deserve fair and equitable working conditions,” says Enck.

How do you enforce new rules?

Enforcing the EPA’s standards is a task left to state agencies. Farmworker advocates claim many states are not doing enough to make sure existing standards are enforced, let alone regulate the new ones.

But agricultural industry groups claim farmers already comply with the law which requires them to follow the instructions on the pesticide’s label.

“I’m not sure that a duplicative layer of regulations makes anybody safer. It does increase the paperwork burden,” says Coppock.

In New York, where there are 35,500 farms, inspections are done by the Department of Environmental Conservation. In the last fiscal year, the department conducted 22 inspections, found 14 violations, and issued 6 warnings and no fines.

In contrast, California, a state with 76.400 farms, has some of the strictest rules in the country governing pesticides and how they can be used. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation conducts approximately 9,500 field inspections each year.

Charlotte Fadipe, spokesperson for this California agency calls enforcement critical. “Farming, to us, is an outdoor factory, and it does not make sense to have that factory unsafe,” she says. “We want to make sure that the workers are safe so we put in place some very, very tough regulations. People sometimes complain that they’re too tough, but for us it’s about protecting the people who grow our food.”

Missing data

Farming industry representatives say the EPA doesn’t have enough data to make a case to justify more stringent regulation of pesticide use.

Farmworker advocates agree more data is needed. But it would likely show the need for these regulations and strong enforcement of them, says Amy Liebman, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health for Migrant Clinicians Network.

“We would be able to collect more data if we had the following: One, if we had medical monitoring for pesticide applicators. Two, if we had a national system of reporting and it was a requirement, and three is we would like for clinicians to have more tests available to them.”

Still Liebman, who worked on a committee that helped advise the EPA on its updated standards, says they are a step in the right direction. “One of the goals that farmworker advocates have is to make sure at the very least, farmworkers are provided protections that are provided to all other workers in other industries,” she says.

Yikes! Flea Collars and Bug Sprays Are Possibly Linked to Childhood Cancers


September 22, 2015 | By Asher Fogle | Good Housekeeping

Keeping pests out of your home may come at a big risk to your kids, says a new study.

Strapping a flea collar on the family pet or spraying your kitchen for ants is putting your child at an increased risk of certain cancers, a new study has found.

In the study, which was published in Pediatrics, researchers analyzed the results of 16 different studies of children exposed to indoor pesticides. And they found that exposure to indoor insecticides is associated with a 47% greater risk of childhood leukemia and 43% increased risk of childhood lymphomas.

The biggest culprits:  professional pest control, indoor flea foggers, flea and tick pet collars, and various roach and ant sprays. In contrast, outdoor pesticides and weed killers were linked to boosting the odds of brain tumors by 26%.

Researchers do note that only a small number of studies were analyzed, and they emphasize that though the research shows an increase in risk, these diseases are still uncommon — though increasing.

“The incidence of childhood leukemia and lymphoma has increased in recent years, and that prompted us to look at this issue,” lead author, Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told The New York Times. “But the risks can be managed as long as parents think, before using pesticides, about better ways to make a house pest-proof or pest-free. That’s a far more important message.”

[h/t The New York Times]

Please read below about one man’s journey to help the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Link to Mark’s personal fundraising page follows.

Sep 03, 2015 by

Welcome to Mark Eisenberg’s Light The Night Page!

This year I decided to walk with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for three reasons. One is in memory of my next door neighbor Jimmy Krueger who passed away at 16 from Leukemia.

Second, on March 2012, my co-worker John at 31 had blurred vision. He went to the eye doctor and the doctor said something did not look right. The next day his blood test came back with a white blood count of 265,000 (normal is less than 10,000). He was told he had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. That was the last thing he thought he would hear.  He then asked if was he going to die. Today he is slowly improving with the great research and drugs such as Gleevec.

Another one of my fellow co-workers, Seth Cogan at 36 developed Hodgkin’s Stage 4 Lymphoma. I remember how weak he was during his 8 months of chemo. Since it was 20 years later than Jimmy’s Leukemia, there were new treatments available to him. He is now a survivor and has been in remission for 12 years.

Charities like this one have done an amazing job in extending the lives of people with Leukemia.  Therefore, I’m asking you to donate to my Light the Night fundraising page for Light the Night!

Your donation will help fund treatments that save lives every day; like immunotherapies that use a person’s own immune system to kill cancer. You may not know it, but every single donation helps save a life with breakthrough therapies such as these.

Please join our team’s effort today by registering to walk or by making a donation. Your participation in the Light The Night Walk will save lives not someday, but today.

You can make a donation in any of the following ways:

  • By Credit Card. You can make a secure, tax-deductable donation through this page by clicking on the red “Donate” button to the right
  • By Check.  Please make checks payable to “The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society” with my name in the memo line and send to the following address:

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Light the Night Walk, 1324 Motor Parkway, Ste. 102, Hauppauge, NY  11749

Thank you for bringing us all closer to living in a world without blood cancers!Mark Eisenberg

If you have questions or need assistance in registering or making a donation, please email lightthenight_nyl@lls.org or call 631-370-7540.


Please Help Joey’s Lymphoblastic Lymphoma Fight by Donating What You Can — Say NO to PESTICIDES NO!!




Joey is a 19 year old, recent high school graduate from Plantation, Florida.  He was on a road to his future when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage 4 T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma on Friday, September 18, 2015.  Like most teenagers, Joey was thinking of future jobs, education, and what the next step in life would be. The cancer has already reached his brain and spinal fluids causing a condition called Belspalsey causing loss of some facial control and double vision, his thymus gland, and his lymph nodes.

While in high school, Joey helped younger children with and without disabilities. He was the friend they needed during their years end field trip to Disney World, Joey stayed beside them when they were unable to go on rides forgoing them himself, and helped them to overcome everyday needs. He was awarded The Knight in Shining Armor Award by his school. The Knight in Shining Armor Award is given each year, to the one student most helpful to others.

Aside from a sense of pride, it made Joey happy, and helping others gave Joey options for his future career paths.  However, with his recent diagnosis, Joey now knows, he is the one that needs help.  Surgery and treatments add up quickly and Joey is just starting out in life.  He has a long battle ahead, but with God on his side, and family and friends supporting him, Joey has the fire in him to wake up and fight one day at a time.   It will be tough and he has already felt what cancer and a very strong regiment of chemotherapy can do to his young body.  Hopefulness guides him and his family each day.

T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma is a relatively rare Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma that accounts for less than 2% of reported cases of Lymphomas. The severity of this diagnosis means that it has entered his brain, spinal fluid, lymph nodes, and other vital organs. With the very rapid spread of this aggressive disease, Joey will require the following: Brain surgery for an implantation of an Ommaya Resevoir, and Chemotherapy delivered three different ways over the course of a minimum of 10 weeks while in the hospital. After being sent home he will be put on a maintenance regiment for however long it takes to put him in remission, this will likely be at least a year. Steroids, blood transfusions, platelet transfusions, and bone marrow transplants are all also part of the treatment.

Joey is one special kid, despite it all, Joey still has a great outlook and his doctors have given him a very positive prognosis if he follows their plan. Please help. We appreciate your prayers, love and support  given in his time of need.

Please click on link below to help Joey by donating what you can.  Thank you.