EPA rethinks 'exclusion zone'

The Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to redefine "application exclusion zone."

Pesticides could be sprayed within 100 feet of passersby under a proposed federal rule that responds to complaints by farm groups but would conflict with Washington and Oregon’s current regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to redefine “application exclusion zone” — the area off-limits to anyone not spraying the pesticides. The EPA planned to publish the rule Nov. 1 in the Federal Register, triggering a 90-day comment period.

The current rule requires aerial or air-blast spraying to stop if someone comes within 100 feet of the equipment, even if they’re not on the property.

The EPA proposes to draw the line at the farm’s boundary. Applicators would still be obligated to not let the pesticide contact anyone not applying the chemical.

States must adopt pesticide-application standards that are at least as strict as the EPA’s. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries this month adopted EPA’s current exclusion zone rule.

L&I has started to review EPA’s proposal, a department spokesman said.

“Because this is just a proposal at this time, we will wait to see what changes EPA adopts in the future and then work with (the state agriculture department) to evaluate those changes and determine if we need to update our own (exclusion zone) rule,” he said in an email.

In Oregon, the exclusion zone expands to 150 feet when the pesticide applicator is required to use a respirator, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Division.

Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends and Farms and Forests, said the EPA’s proposal would simplify the rule and make it more practical.

“You don’t have control over people on somebody else’s property. That puts the farmer in a very difficult position. If they won’t move, what do you do?” she said. “It’s still illegal to apply in a way that’s going to contact people, and that’s a fundamental thing to remember. Those protections are already built in.”

The Obama EPA introduced application exclusion zones as it adopted the Worker Protection Standard, rules to keep workers from being poisoned by pesticides.

The Obama EPA said extending the zone beyond a farm’s boundary would protect workers on adjoining farms and help applicators comply with the strict prohibition on drifting pesticides.

The EPA says it’s redefining the zone partly in response to remarks made in 2017 after President Trump issued an open invitation to comment on federal regulations.

The American Farm Bureau commented that the 100-foot buffer could keep growers from using all of their land.

Washington L&I in October, while adopting EPA’s 2015 definition of “application exclusion zone,” embraced a more narrow definition of a farmer’s “immediate family.”

Immediate family members are exempt from most Worker Protection Standard rules. At the request of farm groups, the EPA adopted a definition to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws.

L&I will impose a more narrow definition: spouse, parents, children and siblings. L&I said they wanted more people to be covered by the rules.

Hansen said the narrower definition ignores the nature of family farming.

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