New York Attorney General Leads Suit Against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

May 31, 2018

New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, joined by Attorneys General Xavier Becerra of California and Brian Frosh of Maryland, has led a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the delay of what they allege is a key requirement of the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS).

This came about after EPA suspended the publication of a notice of availability for expanded health and safety training materials regarding pesticide use, which would require employers to implement the training among farmworkers and pesticide handlers.

In the filing in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Attorneys General claim that EPA’s indefinite delay on publishing the notice violates several requirements of the federal Administrative Procedures Act, including being arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.

“Pesticides are meant to be poisonous,” Underwood said in a press release issued by her office announcing the lawsuit. “EPA’s indefinite suspension of critical pesticide safety training is reprehensible – and illegal.”

In 2015, EPA for the first time in nearly 25 years updated its WPS “to prevent unreasonable adverse effects from exposure to pesticides among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, vulnerable groups (such as minority or low-income populations, child farmworkers and farmworker families) and other persons who may be on or near agricultural establishments.”

In finalizing the rule, EPA included a number of additions to the previous training requirements, which included expanding the content for pesticide safety training, setting qualifications for trainers and requiring more frequent training. The 2015 WPS required employers to comply with its enhanced pesticide safety training provisions within 180 days after EPA published in the Federal Register a notice of availability of improved training materials.

However, in December 2017, EPA indefinitely delayed the publication of the notice of availability for these required training materials. It announced that it intended to reconsider certain aspects of the 2015 rule, and it would not publish the training materials availability notice until its reconsideration was complete.

“EPA is delaying the publication of the training materials availability notice to prevent extra work and costs to developers of the training materials and EPA reviewers,” it said in its announcement.

The New York State Department of Labor estimates that the agriculture industry in New York employs 40,000 to 80,000 farmworkers every year, including domestic, guest worker, year-round and seasonal workers. While underreporting and gaps in oversight data are recognized problems with respect to occupational illness among farmworkers, estimates of acute pesticide poisoning range up to 1,400 cases per year per 100,000 farmworkers.

The acute symptoms from overexposure to pesticides vary. For example, exposure to organophosphate pesticides can result in headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, cramps, diarrhea and impaired vision. Severe acute exposures can result in seizures, respiratory depression, loss of consciousness and even death.

A spokesperson for the United States Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately return a request for comment.

Source: New York Attorney General Press Office

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