NC Farm Worker Chemical Exposure Focus of New Proposed Rule

Work-related harm from hazardous chemicals sometimes extends beyond just the worker themselves. We’ve seen this in cases where those who worked closely with asbestos brought illness home to their families each night as loved ones breathed in the deadly fibers carried on work clothing. barbedcountryside.jpg

In 2007, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported on the case of three North Carolina farm workers who gave birth to infants with congenital anomalies consistent with pesticide exposure. State investigators found numerous pesticide safety problems, but they were unable to prove any clear violations by the employers.

Farm workers in general tend to be some of the most vulnerable employees in the workforce, prone to high levels of heat stress, musculoskeletal pain, respiratory illness and injuries and illness due to work with dangerous equipment and exposure to toxins.

Now, our Concord workers’ compensation lawyers have learned the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new regulations on agricultural pesticides to protect farm workers.

The agency is proposing a series of revisions to the 22-year-old “Worker Protection Standard,” which officials assert will help to bolster protections for the estimated 2 million farm workers in this country. Many of these individuals suffer illness as a result of being exposed to the chemicals that farm companies use to shield crops from insects, weeds and disease.

The EPA was quick to say that used in the right proportions, pesticides can be beneficial in protecting our food supply. However, there is evidence to suggest that, particularly for the workers, exposure to these chemicals in large quantities can be extremely dangerous to humans.

Right now, the EPA, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health and the National Institutes of Health, is coordinating oversight of an Agricultural Health Study that focuses on monitoring the health and safety of some 90,000 people in North Carolina and Iowa with specific focus on pesticide exposure.

The study indicates that while farmers are overall healthier than the general population (probably because they are more physically active and suffer lower rates of obesity), they do have higher rates for certain forms of cancer, and high exposure to pesticides are suspected to be one of the reasons.

In response, there are a number of changes that the EPA is proposing. Among those would be a mandate for yearly training for farmers in pesticide protection. Right now, that training is only required every five years.

Additionally, the new rules would increase the required posting of signs warning people from entering fields that have been recently treated with chemicals. Also, children under the age of 16 would be prohibited from handling pesticides, with exceptions made to those who work on family farms. There would also be a no-entry buffer of 25- to 100-feet established around fields that have just been sprayed.

The agency is currently in the phase of seeking public comment before issuing a final decision.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
EPA proposes new regulations on agricultural pesticides to protect farm workers, Feb. 21, 2014, Staff Report, ters

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