Pesticide Laws

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Federal Laws

The primary focus of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was to provide federal control of pesticide distribution, sale, and use. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was given authority under FIFRA not only to study the consequences of pesticide usage but also to require users (farmers, utility companies, and others) to register when purchasing pesticides.

Through later amendments to the law, users also must take exams for certification as applicators of pesticides. All pesticides used in the U.S. must be registered (licensed) by EPA. This assures that pesticides will be properly labeled and that if in accordance with specifications, will not cause unreasonable harm to the environment.

Penalties Under FIFRA

If you violate FIFRA, or regulations issued under it, you are subject to civil penalties. Penalties can be as much as $1,000 for each offense for private applicators ($5,000 for commercial applicators). Before EPA can fine you, you have the right to ask for a hearing in your own city or county.

Some violations of the law also may subject you to criminal penalties. These can be as much as $1,000 and/or 30 days in prison for private applicators ($25,000 or 1 year in prison, or both, for commercial applicators). States may establish higher penalties.

Residues and Tolerances

Any pesticide that remains in or on food or feed is called a residue. A long-lasting residue is sometimes desirable for long-term pest control. Residues that remain in food or feed at harvest or slaughter, however, are carefully monitored to avoid hazards to the humans and domestic animals that will eat them.

A tolerance is the maximum amount of pesticide residue that may legally remain on or in treated crops and animals (and animal products, such as milk or eggs) that are to be sold for food or feed. The Federal government sets residue tolerances for all pesticides used in the production of crop and animal products intended for food or feed, and for pesticides applied after harvest.

Federal agencies monitor food and feed products for tolerance violations. Any products that exceed the tolerances may be condemned and seized, and violators may be prosecuted.

A pesticide applicator cannot measure residues on crops and livestock, because such measurements require highly specialized equipment and techniques. Only by following labeling instructions can you be sure that treated products will have residues well below tolerance level when marketed. Especially important are instructions on correct application rate and on minimum days between the pesticide application and harvest, slaughter, freshening, or grazing.

Worker Protection Standard

The EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) (as revised in 1992) must be complied with when pesticide products are used on agricultural establishments (farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses) for the commercial or research production of agricultural plants. The Worker Protection Standard (WPS) requires employers to provide agricultural workers and pesticide handlers with protections against possible harm from pesticides.

Persons who must comply with these instructions include owners/operators of the agricultural establishment and owners/operators of commercial businesses that are hired to apply pesticides on the agricultural establishment or to perform crop-advising tasks on such establishments.

You and any family members who work on your agricultural or commercial pesticide establishment are considered “employees” in many situations and must receive some of the required protections.

Some of the basic requirements the WPS establishes for employers include:

  • Displaying information about pesticide safety, emergency procedures, and recent pesticide applications on an agricultural establishment.
  • Training workers and handlers about pesticide safety.
    Helping employees get medical assistance in case of a work-related pesticide emergency.
    Setting up decontamination sites for washing pesticide residues off hands and body.
    Compliance with restricted-entry intervals – the time immediately after a pesticide application when workers may not enter the treated area.
  • Notifying workers (through posted and/or oral warnings) about areas where applications are taking place and areas where restricted-entry intervals are in effect.
    Allowing only trained and equipped pesticide handlers to be present during a pesticide application.
    Providing personal protective equipment for pesticide handlers, and also for workers who enter pesticide-treated areas before expiration of the restricted-entry interval (in the few very limited circumstances permitted by the WPS).
  • Protecting pesticide handlers by giving them safety instructions about the correct use of personal protective equipment and mixing, loading, and application equipment; inspecting and maintaining equipment they will be using; and monitoring them in hazardous situations.

For detailed information about your responsibilities under the WPS, get a copy of EPA’s manual “Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides – How To Comply.” It will tell you what you need to do to be in compliance with the Federal worker protection requirements.

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