Farmworkers suffer more chemical-related injuries and illnesses than any other workforce in the nation. Since 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulated the agricultural use of pesticides through the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Last year, farmworkers called for more robust rules and the EPA proposed draft revisions to the WPS. Before finalizing the new regulations, the EPA opened a public comment period. Mailman School public health student Mr. Marco Salerno in the department of population and family health worked as a research coordinator at CATA, a migrant farmworker organization, prior to joining the Mailman, and collaborated with community leaders, experts, and policymakers to gather comments and advocate for improvements to the WPS. The comments submitted to the EPA by farmworkers were recently published in a paper co-authored by Mr. Salerno in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy.
There are several positives to the new regulations, according to Mr. Salerno. Farmworkers can now request information about the specific pesticides they’ve been exposed to, and their employers must keep a database of those pesticides for two years. The EPA also added a minimum age requirement for handling pesticides –farmworkers have to be at least 18 years old – and the former training video is being replaced to be more context-specific and comprehensive. Farmworkers now will need to be trained every year.
Mr. Salerno believes that while the regulations are an important first step, there is still a long way to go. Some important items that were pushed for but not changed include the medical monitoring of farmworkers to measure lasting effects of pesticide exposure. With regard to enforcement, which is carried out by the states, there is a wide range of what is and how much is enforced, and how many inspectors are available. Furthermore, many violations are not investigated and violators are not penalized. “I’ve met farmworkers who have never had any kind of training, who’ve been retaliated against or fired, or who have all sorts of diseases and illnesses; and none of them ever had a chance for recourse,” said Salerno.
Moving forward, Mr. Salerno plans to continue working with vulnerable populations such as migrant farmworkers. At Mailman, he will focus on both quantitative and qualitative methods of research to design, conduct, and analyze data. Salerno intends to use his research skills to improve policy, programs, and public health interventions.
“We hope the EPA will work with community-based organizations to help with the logistics of implementation. Rolling-out the new rule is complicated, and community-based organizations provide a good source of feedback. These kinds of relationships can ensure that the standards of the federal rule coincide with what’s really happening in communities,” noted Mr. Salerno.