A federal court ruled late Wednesday that the Environmental Protection Agency broke the law when it delayed an Obama-era rule barring minors from handling dangerous pesticides during agricultural work.
Former President Barack Obama revised the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule before leaving the White House in early 2017. The updates increased safeguards around pesticide application by creating a minimum age of 18 for employees, requiring special certifications for certain application methods (like when dropping the chemicals from planes), and even expanding individual certification processes for Native American lands, allowing tribal nations to decide for themselves what these processes look like.
Then, as the tale often goes, President Donald Trump nixed everything. The rule was set to become effective March 6, 2017. On June 2, 2017, Trump-appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a final delay to May 22, 2018, after already pushing it back in January and March. The agency didn’t even give the public a full week to comment on the decision. So, of course, environmental and farmworker groups like United Farm Workers and Earthjustice took ‘em to court because, well, WTF? The EPA defended its actions by saying the EPA needed more time to consult different stakeholders.
The U.S. District Court judge’s decision, however, reversed all that: The rule’s original date of March 6, 2017, became the effective date, so the rule is now on and popping. No more pesticides for kids and no more English-language training materials for employees who can’t read the language. (That was another point in Obama’s revisions: to provide materials in a language workers can read and understand.) Seventy-two percent of farmworkers are foreign-born, according to the National Center for Farmworker Health. In 2012, 35 percent reported they couldn’t speak English “at all.”
Ramon Ramirez, president of the Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, an Oregon-based farmworkers union, saw firsthand the impacts of the Trump administration delayed the rule preventing minors from handling pesticides on farms.
“We felt compelled that we had to do something to stop the madness that’s going on with the use with the pesticides,” he told Earther. “That’s what compelled us to [sue].”
The farmworkers’ movement is one that’s come a long way—but it’s still got a long way to go, Ramirez said. Employees need proper training, especially those who don’t speak Spanish or English. In Oregon, according to Ramirez, many of the farmworkers are indigenous (like the Trique and Mixtec who originate from lands in Oaxaca, Mexico) and speak their native tongue.
Training and stronger protections keep exposure to these toxic chemicals to a minimum and protect workers’ health.
Before the EPA switched stances, it had noted that these revisions could prevent up to 1,000 acute illnesses a year that threaten the 1 million certified pesticide applicators around the country. Though the immigrant community has a lot else to worry about these days, at least youth harmed by pesticides can be one less source of stress.