Action of the Week: Tell Congress That EPA Must Not Allow Children to Apply Toxic Pesticides

We are all concerned about the workers who grow and harvest our food. A sustainable food system must protect the land and the people who work the land, including the children and families of farmworkers. In two related actions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to remove age requirements for application of pesticides. The actions involve changes to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) which went into effect this January and covers farmworkers hired to apply pesticides, and the Certification of Applicators (CA) rule, which will go into effect May 22 and covers those allowed to apply highly toxic restricted use pesticides (RUPs), the most toxic pesticides. The proposals to remove the age requirements present unacceptable risks to teenagers, who “are still developing in critical physical and emotional areas, with particular regard to their brains and reproductive systems,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

>> Tell your Congressional delegation that EPA must not eliminate the minimum age requirement.

Under the Obama administration, EPA added a minimum age requirement of 18 to both rules. A 16-year-old may apply RUPs under the supervision of a certified applicator under the CA rule. Reportedly, the reason for removing the age requirement is that “teenagers often work for less money than older employees.”

The removal of the age requirement is opposed by farmworker and children’s health advocates. Farmworker Justice applauded the rule, including the age requirement, then earlier this year sued EPA to implement the rule. AAP points out that dangers of pesticide exposures to teens include long term damage to nervous and reproductive systems. It also points out that 16-17-year-old workers in other industries are prohibited from working with hazardous chemicals.

At a U.S. Senate oversight hearing last week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker blasted EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for his lack of concern over environmental justice issues. In particular, Sen. Booker noted the proposal to drop the minimum age requirement for agricultural workers who can use pesticides. Many of these workers, Sen. Booker noted, come from "communities of color, indigenous communities and low income communities." When Sen. Booker asked, "Do you think that children handling dangerous pesticides is a good idea?" Mr. Pruitt responded –as he had to other Senators’ questions—by changing the subject.

>> Tell your Congressional delegation that EPA must not eliminate the minimum age requirement.

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