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Updated pesticide law includes organic applications; UMass offers training this spring

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 April Issue Newsletter

By Lisa McKeag, Extension Educator, UMass Extension Vegetable Program

The PPE for mixing Actinovate includes a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, and a dust/mist filtering respirator.

The Worker Protection Standard (WPS) is a federal law designed to protect agricultural workers and pesticide handlers from the risks associated with pesticide exposure. The law requires that employers on farms provide protections for their workers from exposure to pesticides, training about pesticide safety, and mitigations in the case of exposure. The WPS was first issued in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Though potential risks to occupational safety and health with respect to machinery and other hazards has been overseen by the Department of Labor through the OSHA standards since 1971, the EPA issued the WPS to deal specifically with pesticide-related risks. The regulation has remained unchanged until recently, when a revised version was issued in November 2015 to improve protections for workers, and provide better guidance for employers. In Massachusetts, the MA Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) has primary jurisdiction over the law and performs routine inspections to ensure that farmers are complying with WPS. All farmers (with some exemptions for immediate family members) who use any pesticides must comply, regardless of whether the farm is using organic practices.

Information found on the label for Actinovate AG, an OMRI-listed biofungicide – note the EPA registration # and WPS requirements for PPE.According to the EPA, a pesticide is “any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.” With very few exceptions for what are termed “minimum risk” pesticides (e.g., clove oil, citronella) any substance that claims on its label to kill, destroy, remove, or even repel, needs to have an EPA registration number. This might include insecticides and rodenticides, which of course kill insects and rodents, but also sanitizers such as bleach, which kill microbes.

These registered pesticides fall into two categories – restricted use and general use. Restricted use pesticides are those deemed to pose the greatest risk to humans and/or the environment, and they may only be purchased or used by a certified applicator or someone under their direct supervision. Only about 25% of all pesticides used in the US are restricted use. Most pesticides are in the general use category, and in Massachusetts can be used without an applicator’s license (note that other states may require licensing for general use pesticides). Materials that have been approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) for use in organic production all fall into the general use category.

Although OMRI-listed materials are derived from natural sources and are for the most part non-synthetic and minimally processed, they can still be toxic to humans. Many can cause eye or respiratory irritation, and be harmful if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed by skin. They must be handled and applied properly to avoid harmful exposures. The WPS requires that anyone applying or otherwise handling these pesticides be trained as ‘handlers’, and anyone who may be exposed to them or their residues in their routine duties on the farm be trained as ‘workers’.

All registered pesticides have an accompanying label. This label is a legal document that includes information about the product’s active ingredient(s), and the pests and crops for which the product may be used, and at what rates. The label also includes information relevant to the WPS about the personal protective equipment (PPE) that must be worn by anyone handling the product, or entering an area where the product has been used if it is within the time period called the Restricted Entry Interval (REI). Look on the label for a box entitled “Ag Use Requirements” to find the length of the REI and the PPE that must be worn by applicators and other handlers. To find the most current label for a product, ask your supplier, visit the manufacturer’s website, or search the Crop Data Management Systems database.

Farms will have to comply with the majority of the revisions to the WPS on January 2, 2017, but must still currently be in compliance with the existing law until that date. The law requires that workers and handlers are trained by either a certified pesticide applicator or someone who has completed an EPA Train-the-Trainer program (currently workers must be trained every 5 years; the new law mandates annual training). Other WPS requirements are to maintain a central posting area accessible to all workers that makes clear when and where pesticides have been applied on the farm, and to provide PPE, decontamination supplies, and emergency assistance in the case of exposure. UMass Extension is offering Train-the-Trainer sessions specifically tailored for organic and other general use pesticide users this spring. See registration information here.

Visit this page to find out how to comply with the current EPA WPS, and for information on the revisions this page.

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