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Farm worker protections updated for the first time in two decades: New rules establish age limits, improved training to reduce pesticide exposure

Pesticide exposure

(NaturalNews) Working on a farm is not an easy job. As if spending hours doing physical labor under the hot sun weren't bad enough, these workers also have to contend with exposure to toxic pesticides. This combination makes the job a highly taxing and dangerous one, with farm workers reported to suffer from more illnesses and injuries related to chemical exposure than those working in any other job.

Making matters worse, many workers are reluctant to call off work when they are sick, because they cannot afford to lose even a day's worth of pay and they're afraid they will lose their jobs.

At a recent gathering at the Atlantic Blueberry Company, government officials came up with more stringent regulations to protect farm workers from the poisons of pesticides. Shockingly, it's the first time in 24 years that these federal rules have gotten an update, despite the dramatic transformation the industry has undergone in the meantime.

Training, age requirements put in place for pesticide handlers

One of the new requirements is that farm laborers have to be trained before they can work in a field where pesticides have been used, and this training must take place once a year. New Jersey, for example, currently only requires such training once every five years.

In addition, respirators that have gained OSHA certification, and a minimum of three gallons of water, must be kept on hand for decontamination and washing. Workers must be at least 18 years of age to handle pesticides, and better notifications about the job's safety hazards will be required.

The rules go into effect on January 2. EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck remarked that having healthy farm workers and a prospering farm are not mutually exclusive.

Atlantic Blueberry Company's Integrated Pest Management Supervisor, Julie Schneider, said little would change at her company because they already adhere to high standards of safety. However, she expects the changes to be more challenging for some smaller growers.

Farm workers and their families exposed in multiple ways

The main point of the change is to protect workers who are scared to report pesticide exposure, and the new rules couldn't come soon enough. Eighty farm workers were sprayed by a crop dusting plane with fungicide in a 2013 incident, while 60 rural Illinois farm workers – including teenagers – were treated for pesticide exposure earlier this month, after working in a field too soon after it was sprayed with pesticides.

Even those who are not part of these unfortunate high-dose exposure incidents are slowly being poisoned by lower levels of exposure to these dangerous chemicals that add up over time. Those who work directly with the pesticides are most at risk, as they could be exposed due to leaks or splashes in loading, mixing or applying the substances. Field workers could be hit by direct spray or indirect pesticide drift carried by the wind. Meanwhile, their families are exposed when they bring home residue of these toxins on their clothes and even on their skin.

In fact, a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2004 shows that three out of five farm workers had glyphosate in their urine on the day of application, while 12 percent of their children and 4 percent of their spouses also had the chemical in their urine. The exposure levels involved were lower than the safe limit set by the EPA, yet studies have linked Roundup to endocrine disruption and cancer at concentrations a thousand times weaker than those found in the study.

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