Washington lawmakers with different views on pesticides agreed that more public funds should be spent training farmworkers to handle chemicals, according to a report released Monday by the Department of Health.
The report does not recommend requiring growers to alert health officials every time they spray, the issue that led lawmakers to form the bipartisan work group that wrote the report.
“I couldn’t do notification. I couldn’t go there,” said Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, who was co-chairman of the bipartisan workgroup that wrote the report. “I negotiated really hard on that because we were going where I didn’t want to be.”
The work group stemmed from a bill introduced last year by Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle. The legislation characterized agricultural pesticides as a constant menace to communities. Growers would have been mandated to give a four-day notice before spraying and file monthly public reports on chemical use.
In response, farm groups said pesticide drift is rare and already illegal. Growers said they must react quickly to plant diseases and insects and that the reporting mandate was setting them up for fines and lawsuits. The legislation became a study.
Besides expanding the training program run by the state Department of Agriculture, the workgroup recommended a new pesticide-safety panel that would include growers and farmworkers.
The panel could help clarify the causes and frequency of pesticide drift. The agriculture department, health department and Department of Labor and Industries track reports of pesticide exposure differently, making their numbers hard to reconcile, according to the workgroup’s report.
“I think the two recommendations are very reasonable,” said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
“I think agricultural producers take their responsibilities to use products safely seriously and most feel confident that decisions based on good data and a good understanding of that data will lead to a better regulatory regime,” he said.
Efforts to reach Saldana, who was co-chairwoman of the work group, were unsuccessful.
Dent said he hoped the work group’s report will pre-empt new pesticide rules coming from the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.
“Look at the makeup of the Legislature right now. I think we were able to come up with an alternative,” Dent said. “Last year, we had a bill that scared the heck out of everyone. This year we have a report.”
Anticipating the workgroup’s recommendation, the governor’s budget proposal seeks $500,000 over two years to hire two more people for the agriculture department’s pesticide training program. The program now has the equivalent of 6.5 full-time positions and will spend about $1.4 million in the current two-year budget period, according to department records.
Some 2,800 people a year attend department training, but the demand is higher, according to the department.
DeVaney welcomed more training sessions by the agriculture department. “It is important our regulators be involved in that process,” he said.
A state panel that issued annual reports on pesticide incidents and recommended ways to prevent exposure was disbanded in 2009 because of budget cuts.