In November 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency met with several groups representing farmworkers to talk about three provisions of the worker protection rules to make farming safer. Organizers walked away feeling like there was some consensus between the groups, even though there was more work to be done on these issues.
But when the EPAÂ made their two-day meeting notes public and summarized its notes to Sen. Tom Udallâs (D-NM) office a month later,Â organizers noticed major discrepancies and inaccuracies between their notes and those made by the agency.
In an early March letter addressed to the federal agency, organizers expressed concern that the agency had provided not only a âdistorted accountâ of the meeting, but may have used their groupâs participation âto validate or justify Agency actions which are completing at odds with both the EPAâs mission and our own goals of protecting the workers who grow our food, and the communities that surround them, from the harmful effects of pesticides.â
The concerns arose from the two-day November 1 and 2, 2017 meeting when EPA officials met with members of the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC) â comprised of farmworker and health organizations to discuss the Agricultural Worker Protection Final Rule. At the meeting, both sides discussedÂ enforcing a minimum age of workers allowed to handle pesticides; requiring agricultural employers to provide pesticide application information and safety data sheets to a designated representative; and requirements to limit pesticide exposure for agricultural employers to keep workers and other people out of areas known as application exclusion zone (or âAEZâ).
Concerns have persisted since the EPAâs letter to Udallâs office, which appeared to âconflateâ some feedback from PPDC members that actually came from those in the agency. Udall has an oversight role over EPA rulemaking.
The EPAâs assertions to Udall about the minimum age provisions were ânot correct,â PPDC stakeholders wrote, explaining that the letter made it seem like the PPDC stakeholders agreed that the âfamily exemptionâ provision â in which immediate family are exempt from many worker protection standard requirements âÂ was ânot flexible enough to accommodate family-owned and operated businesses of commercial applicators.â In a follow-up email sent from the agency to Udallâs office in January, it clarified that the input was not from PPDC members but rather from comments received as part of the Regulatory Reform docket.
On the issue of a designated representative provision, the PPDC criticized the EPA for telling Udall that âthere was not agreement on a practical way to alleviate stakeholder concerns regarding who could qualify to be a designated representative and how the information could be used.â
âThis is simply not correct,â the PPDC letter signers wrote, explaining that they agreed on addressing the concerns through the establishment of a short-term workgroup on the issue.
PPDC stakeholders had fewer issues on the discussion of the AEZ, but they said the EPAâs letter to Udall âfails to mentionâ the âoverwhelming support for the provision and that the next step was to issue additional guidance.â
The PPDC members further wrote that they had expressed âserious concernsâ about the EPAâs decision to overturn its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, â[h]owever, this input is completely omitted from your letter [to Udall].â Last August, the agency rejected a ban on chlorpyrifos, a widely-used insecticide that has been linked to brain damage and other negative human health outcomes.
âWe do not have an expectation that the EPAâs decisions will always correspond with our specific points of view, yet we do expect our views to be heard and we certainly do not expect them to be ignored or mischaracterized simply because they do not fit into a pre-determined political narrative,â the letter signers added.
The alleged troubling mischaracterization of EPAâs public releases of its interaction of stakeholders may perhaps be forgiven if this was a one-off occurrence. However,Â pesticides like chlorpyrifos are manufacturedÂ byÂ Dow Agrosciences, a division of Dow Chemical which donated $1 millionÂ to Trumpâs inauguration. And under the leadership ofÂ EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency has appeared to take on stances that break from mainstream scientific consensus. Recently,Â the EPA released guidelines that âpromote a message of uncertainty about climate science and gloss over proposed cuts to key adaptation programs,â the Huffington Post reported.
Moving beyond the EPA and PPDCâs war of words, the inconsistency in characterization and feedback ultimately affect one group the most: theÂ 2.5 million farmworkers in the country. The National Agricultural Workers Survey estimated that about half of all farmworkers are undocumented. Under this presidency, they may be afraid to seek medical help if theyâre exposed to pesticides out of deportation fears.
âWe have to acknowledge that what we know about pesticide poisonings relies on the farmworker actually reporting the issue either via their employer at their worksite,â Andrea Delgado, the legislative director of the health communities program at EarthJustice, told ThinkProgress. âOr they actually went to a doctor to get taken care of and that the medical provider actually knows how to identify the signs of pesticide poisoning.â
âThink about all the things that have to be alignedÂ â that someone has to feel empowered enough to say I know enough about my rights when it comes to pesticide exposure,â Delgado reasoned.
This articleÂ was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 30, 2018. Reprinted with permission.Â
About the Author:Â Esther Yu Hsi LeeÂ is a reporter at ThinkProgress focusing on domestic and international migration policies. She has appeared on various television and radio shows to discuss immigration issues. Among other accolades, she was a White House Champion of Change.