States and Farmworkers Say EPA Rule Fails to Protect Workers from Pesticides

Two complaints filed Wednesday in the Southern District of New York alleged that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation increases farmworkers’ risk of exposure to pesticides because it allows farmworkers and others to be present where the pesticides are being applied and near the equipment.

One complaint was filed by states, including New York, California, Illinois, Maryland, and Minnesota. The other was filed by farmworker organizations, including Rural & Migrant Ministry, Alianza Nacional De Campesinas, El Comite de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agrícolas, Farmworker Association of Florida, Migrant Clinicians Network, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos Del Noroeste, Rural Coalition, United Farm Workers, and United Farm Workers Foundation. 

“Federal law requires EPA to take steps to protect humans and the environment from unreasonable adverse effects of pesticides,” according to the states’ complaint. The filing reported that in 2015, a rule added by the EPA created an “Application Exclusion Zone” that would require anyone except those trained to handle pesticides to stay outside of the zone. In October 2020, another EPA rule change purportedly “significantly curtail(ed) the protections of the Application Exclusion Zone, threatening the health and safety of farmworkers, their families, and others.” 

Further, the states alleged that the rule is “unjustified and unwarranted” and that the EPA did not take proper steps to analyze the costs and benefits of the zone and made a decision that is contrary to evidence. The states’ complaint also said the rule will have higher adverse effects on minorities and low-income populations. They cited the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and asked the court to vacate the EPA’s Final Rule. 

The plaintiffs in the other suit had similar arguments and told the court that the Final Rule in question weakens needed safeguards to protect farmworkers from pesticides. They cited the APA and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and asked for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against the final rule and for the court to vacate the rule. 

The complaint said, “Many pesticides pose serious public health and environmental threats, but they are of particular concern for farmworkers, who face the highest levels of exposure to these toxic substances, and their families, who are exposed to pesticide residues from the workers’ clothing and skin. Farmworkers provide essential labor that feeds our country, but they continue to face a number of societal and economic inequities that exacerbate the threats pesticides pose to their health, safety, and well-being.” 

The states are represented by their respective attorneys general. The farmworker organizations are represented by attorneys with Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice