Enck announces new federal regs for handling pesticides

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale Spencer

“Sometimes a carrot and sometimes a whip,” is how Peter Ten Eyck, right, described the EPA as he welcomed  Judith Enk, left, to his farm.

NEW SCOTLAND — Federal regulations to protect farmworkers from pesticides were announced Thursday at Indian Ladder farms, which Judith Enck said served as a model for showing that prosperous farms and healthy farmworkers are “not mutually exclusive goals.”

Enck is a regional administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency; her region covers, in addition to the state of New York, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and eight Indian nations.

The new regulations, which the EPA finalized last September, go into effect in January. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation will enforce the regulations, Enck said, with technical support from the EPA.

The new standards will apply to about 100,000 farmworkers in New York and two million farmworkers nationwide, she said. “Each and every farmworker deserves a healthy and safe environment,” she said to the assembled press with a backdrop of the farm and the Helderberg escarpment behind her.

New York has 35,500 farms covering seven million acres in a $3.6 billion industry, said Enck.

She said pesticides can cause short-term ailments like respiratory problems and rashes as well as long-term problems like neurological damage and cancer.

Across the United States, Enck said, 10,000 to 20,000 farmworkers are poisoned every year by pesticides.


The Enterprise — Melissa Hale Spencer
Outside of the press tent at Indian Ladder Farms on Thursday, Tim Albright, left, farm manager, talks with horticulturist Joe Nuciforo.


“Very progressive”

Joe Nuciforo, horticulturist at Indian Ladder Farms, told The Enterprise that the farm is part of the Northeast Eco Apple Project, which is funded in part by the EPA.

Growers who adhere to a set of standards drafted by the Integrated Pest Management Institute are verified by an independent third-party inspection before harvest. The Eco Apples, as they are called, are distributed by a not-for-profit outfit called Red Tomato, working to preserve ecological agriculture in the Northeast; the first harvest was in 2005.

“Every year,” said Nuciforo, “we sit down with scientists and managers to work out the best way to raise crops.” He said, with fruits and berries, it is not practical to ban pesticides altogether. “We’ve eliminated a lot of groups of chemicals. We use the lightest, gentlest things.”

He named the many crops, besides apples, grown at Indian Ladder Farms, which covers roughly a square mile — blueberries, red and black raspberries, sweet corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, barley, oats, hops, and plums. Next year, pear trees will be added once again to the century-old farm, he said.

A crop like corn, Nuciforo said, is not sprayed with any pesticides because it can be rotated.

“This farm as been very progressive,” he said.

Tim Albright, the farm manager, said, besides Nuciforo and himself, Indian Ladder employs 13 workers — “Americans and guests,” he said, referencing the Jamaicans who work seasonally at the farm.

Albright said they had never received health complaints from workers because of pesticides. He also said of the food grown on the farm, “We consume it with our families as well. We make sure it’s safe.”

The new EPA regulations are very similar to requirements of the Eco Apple program, said Nuciforo. “We made minor tweaks,” he said. “We had the DEC out here to be sure we were incompliance and we hosted a mock audit to get others to comply.”

He said of the new requirements, “It’s more work for us but the intent is good — to make sure things are being done responsibly.”

The new requirements will involve more record-keeping for things like annual physical exams for workers, the men said, and training will have to be completed before the workers are in the field, rather than within five days.

Albright said the new regulations would not cause the price of produce at Indian Ladder Farms to increase.

The changes

Peter Ten Eyck, whose grandfather founded the farm, introduced Enck to the press at Thursday’s conference. “We try to run a safe and organized farm,” he said, and described the EPA as “sometimes a carrot and sometimes a whip.”

Enck listed these changes in the regulations, which hadn’t been updated in 23 years:

—   For the first time, a minimum age — 18 — has been set for those handling pesticides;

—   Annual training, rather than the previous once every five years, is required for farmworkers so they can protect themselves from pesticide exposure;

—   Farmworkers must be trained before going to the field; formerly, they had to be trained within five days;

—   Signs must be posted when hazardous pesticides are being applied;

—   Farmers must provide medical exams for their workers and be sure respirators and other equipment fit properly, and records must be kept on this;

—   Each worker must be provided with at least one gallon of water at the start of each work period and handlers must get three gallons for decontamination. And each farm must meet specifications on providing water for eye washing; and

—   No one will be allowed to enter an area where there is an active application of pesticide.

Farming is physically demanding work but should not be a health risk, Enck said.

“We expect every farm in New York State to know the rules,” said Enck. “We need farmers as partners.”

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