Farmworker groups represented by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice last week sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for shelving improved pesticide training materials that agricultural workers depend on to protect themselves, and their families, from chemical poisoning.
EPA acknowledges the updated training materials have been ready for more than a year, but is refusing to issue a notice in the Federal Register announcing their availability. Doing so would make the improved training mandatory for the industry. Updated and improved pesticide training materials for farmworkers are mandated under the 2015 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), a federal set of safeguards meant to prevent pesticide poisonings.
The attorneys general of New York, Maryland and California filed a similar lawsuit also on May 30.
“EPA is refusing to provide official notice that upgraded materials are available,” said Earthjustice attorney Hannah Chang. “This should be a no-brainer. But because of EPA’s refusal, thousands of farmworkers will not receive the pesticide training they need to know their rights in the workplace, and to protect themselves and their families from pesticide exposure.”
Doctors diagnose thousands of poisonings a year among agricultural workers. The health costs of poisoning overwhelmingly impact rural communities of color. According to the government’s own findings, the benefits of the improved WPS exceeds $64 million each year in avoided health costs.
“EPA is illegally delaying information farmworkers need to stay safe,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice. “Farmworkers should receive complete information about how they and their families can prevent injury from pesticides, and about their right to a safe workplace.”
“The EPA knows farmworkers and their families are at risk of dangerous pesticide exposure day in and day out. Yet it refuses to provide life-saving information and training for the workers who handle the most toxic pesticides,” said Richard Witt, executive director of the of Rural & Migrant Ministry. “This is outrageous and immoral.”
“Farmworker women suffer grave reproductive health consequences, along with the other health issues that workers and community members face, because of pesticides exposure,” said Mónica Ramírez, president of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas.
“EPA’s mission is to protect public health,” said Lewis Papenfuse, executive director of the Worker Justice Center of New York. “It’s simply inexcusable to keep improved pesticide trainings away from farmworkers, especially since materials are ready for use. Farmworkers have every right to know how best to be safe from toxic pesticides while they grow and pick the food we all consume.”
“Farmworkers have waited too long for the provisions of the Worker Protection Standard to be implemented. Training is an important way to reduce exposure to dangerous toxics,” said Ramón Ramírez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste. “Farmworker life expectancy is 49 years of age compared to 78 for the general population. This important provision must be implemented as soon as possible to reduce health risks.”
This is one of more than 85 lawsuits Earthjustice has filed against the Trump Administration and his EPA, which in December announced its intent to gut federal safeguards for pesticides in the coming months.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rural & Migrant Ministry, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, El Comité de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agrícolas, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, and Worker Justice Center of New York. For more info: earthjustice.org.