EPA Releases Rule to Simplify Chemical Application Zone Requirements for Agricultural Workers

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a rule in the Federal Register on Thursday revising one section of the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) regarding applying pesticides. The change reportedly “clarify and simplify” requirements for the application exclusion zone (AEZ). The EPA’s goal with the change was to reduce regulations while still providing rules to protect agricultural workers from excessive exposure to chemicals. 

The EPA said “the primary benefit of revising the AEZ requirements is a reduction in the complexity of applying a pesticide and improving the compliance and enforceability of the requirements. This deregulatory action is expected to reduce the burden for affected entities because the revised requirements are expected to substantially reduce the complexity of arranging and conducting a pesticide application. EPA has not, however, quantified the anticipated cost savings.” 

Only the AEZ requirements were revised in this action, the previous AEZ requirements were adopted in 2015. The change was reportedly made under the authority of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The rule was reportedly a response to feedback from stakeholders to the EPA’s efforts. The summary of the rule said that the “EPA remains committed to ensuring the protection of workers and persons in areas where pesticide applications are taking place.” 

The first change included making an AEZ only applicable or enforceable on the property of an agricultural employer. The EPA further clarified language to show that applications suspended because of AEZ requirements can be resumed after individuals are no longer in the AEZ. Agricultural employers and handlers will now be exempted from application suspension due to people within the AEZ who are not employed by the farm or organization applying the pesticide. Under the new rule, owners of the properties and their immediate families can shelter within closed buildings inside the AEZ during the application of chemicals, and do not need to leave the property while the pesticide is sprayed. And, lastly, the changes simplify factors for determining the range of the AEZ based on application method, rather than the previous criteria which included droplet size. 

The EPA said that the revisions did take into account comments from the public and provide opportunities for comments to be made. The rule will become effective two months after it is published on December 29, 2020.