Idaho bill would weaken state farm worker pesticide protections while Trump administration does the same

Idaho’s Republican-controlled Legislature is moving to weaken state regulations protecting farm workers from toxic pesticides sprayed by crop dusters even as the Trump administration is pulling back on federal pesticide rules safeguarding field laborers.


House Bill 487, by GOP state Rep. Judy Boyle, would strike down existing regulations to prevent pesticide spraying from harming farm workers and rural communities. It was approved with amendments on Thursday, March 12 by the state Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee and sent to the full Senate for consideration under the Fourteenth Order, a move to allow any Senator to further amend the bill.  The United Farm Workers and UFW Foundation oppose the legislation.


Introduction of H.B. 487 follows an incident last year when some 20 farm workers in southwestern Idaho became sick after pesticides were sprayed in a field near where they were laboring. A common cause of mass pesticide poisoning incidents is when agricultural poisons applied in one field drift into a nearby field where crews are working. Among other changes, H.B. 487 alarmingly proposes to limit the ability of the state officials to hold pesticide applicators accountable for misuse of pesticides.


Industry proponents of the measure argue state enforcement is redundant because of existing federal regulation. The UFW and other advocates convinced President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency to achieve equality for farm workers in 2015 by providing them with the same pesticide protections most other American workers enjoyed for decades.


Yet at the national level today, the Trump EPA is pressing forward with a proposal to weaken the national protections from pesticide drift for workers and communities. Specifically, U.S. EPA’s proposed revisions to the Application Exclusion Zone provision within the federal Agricultural Worker Protection Standard threatens farm worker and rural residents’ health and safety by allowing use of pesticides in ways that pose unreasonable risks of harm.


“H.B. 487, combined with current efforts by the Trump EPA, means farm workers and rural communities in Idaho would have little or no recourse to protect themselves or hold individuals or companies accountable for one of the leading causes of pesticide poisoning,” said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres.


“Farm workers toil under the scorching sun and in extreme temperatures, performing skilled and arduous labor in fields, nurseries, greenhouses, dairies and ranches,” said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero. “In the course of that work, they face a range of hazards, including but not limited to heat illness plus occupational and residential exposure to a range of harmful pesticides. Rather than limit or end Idaho’s ability to protect farm workers and communities from pesticide exposure, we urge the Idaho Legislature to reject H.B. 487.”

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