Overview of the Washington State Pesticide Application Safety Workgroup; recommendations should focus on education, not regulation

By MADILYNNE CLARK  | 
POLICY BRIEF
|
Nov 9, 2018

Download the full Policy Brief


Key Findings

  1. 99.995% of agricultural pesticide spraying occurs without posing any danger to the public – which indicates the high priority given to safety in Washington agriculture. 
  2. This rate has been achieved through existing federal and state policies and successful pesticide education programs administered by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. 
  3. Creating a pesticide spray database, mandating a spray notification system, and funding an equipment buyback program would be extremely damaging to Washington’s farmers, farmworkers, and taxpayers. 
  4. The government’s most effective role is in education. According to a panel of farmworkers and farmers, education works best in improving pesticide safety. 
  5. Washington State’s Pesticide Application Safety Workgroup recommendations should include:  increasing educational efforts not regulations, reinstating the PIRT panel to inform policymakers on the state of pesticide safety and to synchronize data among agencies, and require farmworkers to wear reflective, orange vests when working in the fields to make them more visible to pesticide applicators. 

Introduction

“I’m a mom and so I’m not interested in seeing pesticides spread all over. I’m not interested in seeing my kids run through that. We’re talking about safe things because we live where we work… We’re very passionate about safety: for our pilots, for our crew, for the people we are working around… We are also interested in keeping our environment safe because that’s where our kids are going to live too. I’m not interested in making a place where my kids can’t live.”
Erin Morse, Washington Business Owner and Mom

This testimony was presented at the first meeting of Washington’s Pesticide Safety Application Workgroup in June 2018, and reflects the attitudes of thousands of people within Washington’s agricultural community.

The 99.995% of agricultural pesticide applications which occur without incident indicates the high priority given to safety in Washington agriculture. This high safety rate has been achieved under existing federal and state policies and the successful pesticide education programs administered by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. 

In contrast, the 0.005% of pesticide applications that are done improperly are often exaggerated and the people, crops, or the environment which may be harmed have become a political tool to impose new regulations, hurting both farmers and farmworkers. 

Advocates of imposing more regulation have used biased and false messages in Washington, including:

  • Misrepresenting an accidental drift event as intentional; one farmworker said during testimony in 2017 on House Bill 1564 – Pesticide Exposure, “I think he [the aerial applicator] did it on purpose.” No evidence was presented to substantiate the claim. 
  • Taking regulations out of context
  • One concerned citizen with the Washington State Parent Teacher Association (PTA) claimed, “There is no requirement for prior notification of intent to spray and without notification, children may be at risk;” in fact, notification is required for school pesticide use by the schools and any agricultural drift of pesticides is illegal. An applicator would be held accountable if drift affected anyone or anyplace. 

These statements promote a culture of irresponsibility among advocates of regulation and reduce the possibility of collaborative solutions. 

Collaborative efforts would make pesticide applications even safer and not just create additional costs, bureaucratic hoops, and paperwork. Washington’s pesticide applications would be safer if state policy focuses on education, not regulation. 

This Policy Brief presents an overview of the 2018 Pesticide Application Safety Workgroup, reviews the importance of pesticides to food production in Washington state, identifies current problems with requiring spray notifications and a reporting database, and presents practical recommendations for reform. 

Download the full Policy Brief