CAPITAL PRESS (Salem, Oregon)

January 27, 2017

 

‘Buck stops’ with ag employer when it comes to pesticide safety

 

A pesticide expert speaking at the Northwest Agricultural Show explains how new EPA worker safety rules will play out for producers.

By Eric Mortenson

PORTLAND — Kaci Buhl cut through the technical jargon while talking to producers about pesticides and the EPA’s new worker protection standards.

“I can sum it up in a few words,” Buhl said. “Don’t spray people.”

Buhl is a senior faculty research assistant at Oregon State University’s environmental and molecular toxicology department and deputy director of the National Pesticide Information Center on campus. She said the EPA’s new rules give workers and regulators a “right to know” what, when and how much pesticides farms are using.

Some of the EPA rules are practices already followed by Oregon farmers, but the changes tighten requirements for record keeping regarding training, safety procedures and application history.

Buhl summarized the major changes:

• Annual mandatory farmworker training, the previously requirement was every five years.

• More training regarding “take home” exposure, such to pesticide residue on work clothing.

• Children under 18 for the first time are prohibited from handling pesticides. The farmer’s immediate family is excluded from the regulation.

• Additional clarity regarding “no entry” exclusion zones of zero, 25 and 100 feet from where pesticides were applied. Buhl reminded producers that exclusion zones travel with the equipment.

• Mandatory “no entry” signs and mandatory record keeping.

• Changes in protective equipment requirements to make them consistent with Department of Labor Standards. Workers wearing respirators must first be medically certified and must undergo a “fit” test to make sure the gear is working properly.

• Specific amounts of water per worker must be available at the work site for routine hand-washing and emergency eye flushing. Eye wash stations are required at pesticide mixing and loading sites.

Buhl said worker training is critical. Labor contractors who can supply crews that have been properly trained in handling pesticides will have an advantage. However, farmers are ultimately responsible for making sure workers follow safety rules.

“The buck stops with the ag employer,” Buhl said.

Buhl spoke during the Jan. 24-26 Northwest Agricultural Show at the Portland Expo Center. The annual event typically includes a trade show and equipment displays combined with workshops on regulatory or production issues.

Pesticide use on farms is a flash point for some consumers and environmental activists. Buhl said the general public is afraid of or unfamiliar with pesticides. “We have a job to do, to tell the story that they are not as toxic as people think,” she said.

One producer in the audience complained that the safety gear required by pesticide guidelines makes workers look like “astronauts” and gives the impression to passersby that the material is far more hazardous than it is.

A nursery owner in the audience asked about exclusion zones. Many operations, he said, have hedges around their property in part to contain pesticide drift. There might be unseen walkers or bicyclists on the other side who are within the exclusion zone. Buhl part of a producer’s “due diligence” would involve stopping spraying to take a look, posting flaggers on the other side of the hedge and similar methods.

“Suspend, evaluate, ensure,” she said.

Some of the EPA changes went into effect this year; the rest take effect in January 2018.