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  • ACOEM Comments to EPA Regarding Agricultural Worker Protections

    August 18, 2014   

    OPP Docket
    Environmental Protection Agency Docket Center (EPA/DC)
    Mail Code: 28221T
    1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
    Washington, DC 20460 

    Docket ID# EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0184 

    To Whom It May Concern: 

    The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, on “Pesticides; Agricultural Worker Protection Standards Revisions (WPS).” Under the “Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act” (FIFRA), EPA is responsible for regulating the safe use of pesticides by farm workers, structural pest control operators, mixer-loaders, and other workers who may be exposed to pesticides at work.


    ACOEM, an organization of more than 4,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments. Accordingly, ACOEM has an interest in the promulgation of effective regulations to protect American workers from exposure to pesticides and other hazardous substances and workplace risks. Our comments were prepared by an ACOEM Presidential Task Force on the Proposed Rule and include input from the ACOEM Board of Directors and other ACOEM members.

    ACOEM applauds EPA’s efforts to revise and strengthen the Worker Protection Standards (WPS) in order to prevent adverse health effects resulting from exposure to pesticides among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, other vulnerable groups such as minority populations, child farmworkers, and farmworker families, as well as the general public. In general, we recognize that these proposed changes are likely to improve the WPS in significant ways, although we have also identified a number of areas where we believe further opportunities for improvement are possible.   


    In general, ACOEM favors consistency in the regulatory framework for health and safety in the workplace. Accordingly we recommend that, to the extent possible, these revised WPS regulations should comport with other health and safety regulations and standards, including comparable OSHA regulation. Such consistency can foster a unified approach to preventive planning, health and safety training and other compliance activities carried out by occupational health and safety professionals, employers, and workers.   

    ACOEM believes that these proposed WPS regulations should take into account lessons gained in other areas of occupational and environmental health and safety. For example, by requiring certain written compliance elements, including written plans for hazard communication and emergency response, compliance can often be more easily documented, thereby achieving a higher level of worker safety. ACOEM encourages EPA to be forward-looking and to incorporate specific provisions into these proposed regulations that will encourage development of well-focused training materials, safety data sheets, and other information resources.

    One such resource, which we would strongly encourage EPA to adopt, would be development of an improved database of pesticide illnesses among farmworkers. To that end, ACOEM recognizes that EPA would need to adopt a definition of the term “pesticide illness” or “pesticide-related illness.” We suggest that EPA adopt a broad definition of the term “pesticide illness“ that would include cases where a treating health care provider has concluded or suspected that exposure to a pesticide either caused the illness or substantially contributed to its development. We would encourage development of databases, perhaps at the state level, similar to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) “Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program.” In California where licensed health care providers are required to report pesticide illnesses to the local health department, a “pesticide illness case” is defined as “a patient who is or may be suffering from pesticide poisoning or any disease or condition caused by a pesticide.”1 These reports, after further evaluation by county agricultural commissioners, are provided to DPR, a department within the California Environmental Protection Agency. DPR utilizes a broad definition of pesticide-related: “If health effects appear to derive from exposure to any component of a pesticide product, including inert ingredients, impurities, and breakdown products, the surveillance program attributes those health effects to that pesticide product.” DPR ultimately classifies cases into categories such as definite, probable, possible, and unlikely cases.2

    Along these lines, ACOEM believes employers should be required to keep a log of known or suspected pesticide-related illnesses requiring medical treatment beyond “first aid.” Entries in a log could be based upon information available to the employer, including self-reports of illness from an employee or, if available, information from a doctor treating one of its employees. The log should be readily available and maintained for a minimum of 3 years — comparable to recording requirements for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 300 log of occupational injuries and illnesses. Furthermore, in order to enable rapid response to serious episodes of illness, ACOEM would support a requirement that known or suspected pesticide illnesses requiring hospitalization be reported promptly by fax or telephone to the local agricultural commissioner, state department of pesticide regulation, or other local enforcement agency.

    Further, ACOEM believes that the preparation and maintenance of written prevention and emergency response plans and training records represent feasible and cost-effective compliance measures. Potentially, staff at regional poison control centers or agricultural extension agencies could assist employers in the development of prevention and emergency response plans. Emergency response plans should include a requirement that the employer contact the regional poison control center after becoming aware of a known or suspected acute pesticide-related illness. ACOEM recommends that these additional measures be incorporated into the final WPS regulation in several key areas.  

    Finally, ACOEM favors extending health and safety protections to a broad range of agricultural workers. Accordingly, we hope that these proposed WPS regulations will be written broadly enough to cover workers employed by subcontractors or those performing in-kind services or working at multi-employer worksites.

    ACOEM is please to respond to several of the specific questions posed by the Agency.

    Thank you for your consideration of these comments.


    Kathryn Mueller, MD, MPH, FACOEM 

    Click here to access ACOEM’s complete comments.   


    ACOEM would like to clarify that its comments regarding the efficacy of cholinesterase screening as limited to those who handle, mix or apply Toxicity Category I or II organophosphates and N-methyl-carbamates is based on the information in Appendix A. In short, while we do not currently recommend widespread use of either cholinesterase or urinary metabolite screening for all farmworkers, we do recommend that the EPA reconsider a national requirement for the limited cholinesterase screening for pesticide handlers with Category I or II exposure, and that the Washington State requirements should provide a model.