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Farm worker pesticide rules tightened

Farm worker pesticide rules tightened
Maria Ambris, a Coachella Valley agricultural worker, wears a hat and bandanna to protect her from the sun and pesticides on June 4, 1996. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday established the first minimum-age requirement -- 18 -- for farm workers applying pesticides to fields.

The change is part of a revision of pesticide rules by the agency, which acknowledged that previous regulation was not enough to prevent an estimated $10 million to $15 million in annual health costs due to chemical exposure among the nation's 2 million agricultural workers.

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"The existing rule was not working the way it should," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

The revisions to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard also change the certification process, increase training requirements, require tighter record-keeping and protect workers from retaliation when they report potential safety violations.

Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers union, called the changes "a dream come true" for agricultural workers. "We will no longer allow children to apply pesticides," he said.

Rodriguez noted that DDT and two other pesticides were banned from fields through UFW contracts in 1967, long before they were regulated by federal environmental officials.

New provisions about protective equipment will bring agricultural workers in line with rules that apply to other employees under federal law, such as training to ensure that respirators fit properly, EPA and federal labor officials said.

"It is never too late to do the right thing," Rodriguez said.

The union and other organizations, however, noted that EPA stopped short of requiring active medical monitoring, including blood tests, of workers who mix and apply chemicals.

California and Washington have such requirements, according to Ed Zuroweste, chief medical worker of the Migrant Clinicians Network, a nonprofit group that supports medical workers in federally qualified clinics.

The EPA revisions "do not represent a major overhaul" for California but may spur some "adjustments," said Charlotte Fadipe, spokeswoman for the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

"We already do a lot of this in one form or another," including the minimum age, Fadipe said.

Follow me on Twitter: @LATgeoffmohan.

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