Delayed EPA Rules for Handling Toxic Pesticides Drives Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) –  In the latest fight over the Trump administration’s push to roll back environmental regulations, opponents say the unjustified delay of new rules for handling toxic pesticides will imperil laborers, the environment and the general public.

A coalition of labor groups and conservationists led by the farm workers’ union Pineros y Campesinos Unidos Del Noroeste sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday in San Francisco federal court.

The groups say the EPA failed to justify a 14-month delay of new rules that would require certification for those who handle “the most toxic” restricted-use pesticides.

“EPA’s mission is to protect all Americans from significant risks to human health and yet it’s delaying life-saving information and training for the workers who handle the most toxic pesticides in the country,” Eve Gartner, an Earthjustice attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “This delay jeopardizes everyone’s health and safety.”

The Certification of Pesticide Applicators, or CPA, rule would require handlers to learn about the dangers of pesticide exposure; proper use of protective equipment; instructions for using specific pesticides on certain sites; preventing contamination due to spills, drift, and runoff; and how to report pesticide safety violations.

The training and certification mandate would also cover those who spray pesticides on farm crops from aircrafts, common culprits of “pesticide drift,” which can expose non-targeted plants, animals and bystanders to severe harm, according to the lawsuit.

In its final rule on the new certification requirements, the EPA cited numerous incidents in which the misapplication of restricted-use pesticides has resulted in pervasive health hazards and death.

In the mid 1990s, an insecticide called methyl parathion, made primarily for treating cotton and other crops, was used for indoor pest control in several states, leading to “the widespread contamination of hundreds of homes, significant pesticide exposures and adverse health effects for hundreds of homeowners and children, and clean-up costs of millions of dollars,” according to the EPA.

Last year, Terminix was fined $10 million for using a restricted-use pesticide in homes in the U.S. Virgin Islands, causing the death of two young girls and sickening a family.

Another pest control business in Utah was charged with a misdemeanor in 2011 for misusing a restricted-use pesticide, Fumitoxin, in a residential home and causing the deaths of two minor children.

“The glaring need for the new CPA Rule is highlighted by the widespread, nationwide incidences of serious harm, including death, that have occurred over the years because of the improper application of [restricted-use pesticides] in agricultural fields and in our homes,” the labor groups and conservationists say in their 20-page complaint.

After a two-year rulemaking process, which involved the review of 700 public comments, the EPA published its final rule on restricted-use pesticide handling requirements on Jan. 4, with an effective date of March 6.

But on President Donald Trump’s first day in office, Jan. 20, the White House issued a memo directing all federal agencies to postpone all pending final rules for at least 60 days to ensure the president’s “appointees or designees have the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations.”

The EPA then issued a series of five new rules delaying enactment of the pesticide certification requirements, most recently with a June 2 mandate that pushes the effective date back to May 22, 2018. The agency only provided a four-day window in late May for the public to comment on the postponement.

The plaintiffs say the EPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to adequately justify the delay, not providing a sufficient opportunity for public comment, and not consulting with other agencies, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on the impact of such a decision.

The groups seek a court order vacating the EPA’s issuance of delay rules and declaring that the CPA requirements must take effect immediately.

Other named plaintiffs in the lawsuit include United Farm Workers, Farmworker Association of Florida, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

They are represented by Stacey Geis of Earthjustice in San Francisco, who did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

The EPA did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email seeking comment.

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