Farmworkers are already some of the least protected workers in the country. And EPA is proposing to weaken an existing rule protecting farmworkers and their communities from pesticide spray drift — the application exclusion zone, or AEZ — a provision in the Worker Protection Standard.
Currently, the AEZ establishes a “protection zone” around pesticide application equipment — no one can be within a certain radius during pesticide application. It’s a sensible rule that was supported by EPA’s own scientists to reduce the number of human exposures to pesticides that drift from application sites. EPA’s proposed changes to the AEZ guts these existing protections, creating a number of loopholes that exempt people from protections.
Gutting existing protections
If implemented, these changes would remove protection for people not within the specific property being sprayed, even if they are within the designated radius of a “protection zone.” In other words, people can be in a neighboring field that is not a part of the property being sprayed, and application is permitted. But we know that property fences don’t stop pesticide spray drift.
EPA’s proposal would also roll back protections for farmers by exempting farm owners and family members inside buildings from the “protection zone,” even if they are within the radius of the protection zone as applied to other people. In other words, if you’re a farm owner or family and you’re inside, you’re not protected.
And if that’s not enough, the changes would eliminate the protection zone for “fine droplet” applications sprayed less than 12 inches above ground, and reduce the protection zone for fine droplet applications over 12 inches above ground. This change is particularly dangerous, as such applications are among the most prone to drift, even in light winds, due to droplet size.
Strengthening, not dismantling
This proposed rollback violates EPA’s obligations to protect children and environmental justice communities. The AEZ provides clear, enforceable rules that promise significantly increased protection from pesticide drift exposure.
EPA is accepting public comment on the proposed changes through January 30th. Tell EPA we should be strengthening rules that protect farmworkers from pesticide spray drift, not dismantling them.