A few days ago, the EPA proposed new rules to protect farmworkers from pesticides. It's about time. The standards were last updated in 1992, and there's been a lot of research on the effects of pesticides on human health in the 22 years since.
Among the proposed changes: Workers would need to be at least 16 years old in order to handle pesticides, except in some situations involving small family farms. Farms would be obligated to hold mandatory safety trainings every year, instead of every five years, to cover things like how to handle pesticides, how to clean gear and clothing and yourself after handling them, how to know when it’s safe to return to a field that has been treated, and what legal protections are available to farmworkers.
In an ideal world, no workers would ever be exposed to pesticides at all (and no eaters either), but the ideal world is not where we live. While everything we use to kill insects has some level of toxicity to humans, it’s also not fun to stand in a field and watch rootworms eat all your corn. The new rules would be an improvement.
The question, then, is would they be effective and enforceable? I asked Thomas Arcury at Wake Forest School of Medicine, who has spent almost two decades studying the health of farmworkers in North Carolina. His short answer: no.