PesticidesImprovements Needed to Ensure the Safety of Farmworkers and Their Children Gao ID: RCED-00-40 March 14, 2000
Two laws principally govern the safe use of pesticides: (1) the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which requires that pesticides be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for specified uses, and (2) the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, which regulates pesticide residues on foods. In October 1998, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others petitioned EPA to identify children living on and near farms as a major identifiable subgroup for the purposes of the Food Quality Protection Act. EPA responded by funding several studies to assess the effects of farm children's exposure to pesticides. GAO found that comprehensive information on the acute and chronic health effects resulting from pesticide exposure does not exist, whether for farmworkers, their children, or the general population. Recognizing that pesticides can cause various illnesses, EPA introduced the Worker Protection Standard, which is intended to reduce farmworkers' exposure to pesticides. One of the standard's most important protections, according to EPA, is the time interval between when pesticides are applied and when workers may enter treated fields. However, EPA officials said that these intervals are not designed for children younger than 12 years of age who do farm work. Moreover, EPA has few guarantees that the protections afforded by the standards are actually being provided for farmworkers in general or to children who work in agriculture. GAO found that EPA regions have been inconsistent in setting goals for the number of work inspections that states should conduct, in defining what constitutes a worker protection inspection, and in overseeing and monitoring the states' implementation and enforcement of the standards.
GAO noted that: (1) two laws principally govern the safe use of pesticides: (a) the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which requires that pesticides be approved by EPA for specified uses; and (b) the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which regulates the residues of pesticides on or in foods; (2) in 1996, the Food Quality Protection Act amended these two laws, requiring EPA to reevaluate the amount of pesticide residues allowed on or in food, taking into account consumers' aggregate exposure from other sources, including residential exposures; (3) EPA is generally required to apply an additional margin of safety in setting limits on pesticide residues to ensure the safety of food for infants and children; (4) EPA must also consider any available information concerning "major identifiable subgroups of consumers" in reevaluating the amount of pesticide residues that can remain on or in foods; (5) in October 1998, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others petitioned EPA to identify children living on and near farms as a major identifiable subgroup for the purposes of the Food Quality Protection Act; (6) in its initial response, EPA said it was funding several studies aimed at assessing the effects of farm children's exposure to pesticides; (7) comprehensive information on acute and chronic health effects due to pesticide exposure does not exist, and data sources to track acute--short term--pesticide illnesses are incomplete and have limitations that result in the underestimation of both the frequency and the severity of such illnesses; (8) a number of federally sponsored studies are under way related to the chronic effects of pesticide exposure, but it will be many years before conclusive results from these studies are known; (9) EPA implemented the Worker Protection Standard to reduce farmworkers' exposure to pesticides; (10) according to EPA, one of the most important protections afforded by the Standard is the time intervals between when the pesticides are applied and when workers may enter treated areas; (11) these entry intervals were designed for adults and children 12 years and older; (12) EPA has little assurance the protections in the Standard are being provided at all; and (13) GAO found EPA regions have been inconsistent in whether they set goals for the number of worker protection inspections states should conduct, in defining what constitutes a worker protection inspection, and in the extent to which they oversee and monitor states' implementation and enforcement of the Standard.Recommendations
Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.Director: Team: Phone: