The California Department of Pesticide Regulation will propose new rules this year to provide workers with more information about pesticides in the fields.
The regulations will provide California agricultural workers with protection that goes beyond any other state or federal guidelines.
DPR's Worker Notification Regulations culminate several years of investigation and analysis by the department's health and safety experts, who also consulted with industry and worker advocates. The proposed rules will:
— Require pesticide applicators to notify the grower before and after a chemical is used, and re-notify if the scheduled application date changes.
— Require the grower to manage his property as if the application could occur anytime within a 24-hour time window.
— Require hired contractors and growers to assure prior notification for any employees who walk within one-quarter mile of a treated field.
DPR will seek public comments on the regulations when they are formally proposed later this year.
Previous DPR initiatives contributed to a sharp decline in suspected or confirmed injuries to agricultural workers from field residues. During the 1980s, such illnesses topped 250 for four consecutive years. Newly released illness data showed 68 such illnesses in 2004.
The 2004 data also showed about the same overall level of illness reporting as in the previous year. Out of 1,238 investigations (compared to 1,232 investigations in 2003), pesticide exposure was suspected or confirmed in 828 cases in 2004, compared to 802 cases the prior year.
Occupational exposures accounted for 91 percent of reports; more than half were related to non-agricultural pesticide use. For other details, see www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/whs/pdf/hs1865.pdf.
DPR's Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program identifies most incidents involving multiple injuries, and a large percentage of agricultural incidents. DPR rarely receives reports on home injuries, either because victims do not seek treatment or because physicians fail to report these cases. DPR and other agencies continue efforts to better identify these exposures.
DPR scientists regularly evaluate trends in the illness data collected by DPR. In a study due later this year, DPR scientists evaluated illnesses linked to newer pyrethroids, a type of insecticide. This will be the first scientifically published report linking irritation symptoms among field workers (such as skin and respiratory problems) to some pyrethroid residues.
Other trend analyses under development include illnesses following structural applications, illnesses related to the fumigants chloropicrin, metam sodium and phosphine/phosphine-generating pesticides. This data will also help DPR develop new safeguards to govern the use of these fumigants.
Meanwhile, DPR industrial hygienists provided training on personal protective equipment to more than 300 pesticide handlers in the past year, and instructed more than 100 emergency responders on dealing with pesticide incidents.
A survey to determine languages spoken in California farm counties showed a need for safety materials translated into Punjabi. The Pesticide Safety Information Series leaflets were translated into Punjabi and became available in June 2005.
Other DPR health and safety projects completed in the past year include a study to evaluate the amount of residue transferred to clothing material from liquid and granular pesticide use on turf. The project was undertaken because it represents a common pesticide exposure scenario for urban residents, particularly for small children who play on lawns.
The study suggested that applying granular pesticides to turf may result in less residue than use of liquid products, but DPR researchers advised more study is needed to refine testing methods.
One of six departments and boards within the California Environmental Protection Agency, DPR regulates the sale and use of pesticides to protect people and the environment.