EPA Proposes Changes to Agricultural Worker Protection Standard

Dan Agri-Business, Environment, Pest/Pest Control, USDA-EPA


There could soon be changes to certain agricultural pesticide use rules, as the Biden administration seeks to change some adjustments made in 2020.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed rule that would change the pesticide Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) requirements under the 2015 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS).  

In 2015, EPA made significant changes to the Worker Protection Standard to decrease pesticide exposure among farmworkers and their family members. Among the changes, the revised standard included a new provision requiring agricultural employers to keep workers and all other individuals out of an area called the AEZ during outdoor pesticide applications. The AEZ is the area surrounding an ongoing pesticide application that people must not enter to avoid exposure. An AEZ moves with the equipment during applications to protect farmworkers and bystanders that could be contacted by pesticides.


In 2020, the Trump administration published a rule specific to the AEZ requirements that changed the AEZ size from 100 feet to 25 feet for some ground-based spray applications. The EPA is now proposing to reinstate several provisions from the 2015 WPS including:

  • Applying the AEZ
    • beyond an establishment’s boundaries; and
    • when individuals are within easements (such as easements for utility workers to access telephone lines).
  • Establishing AEZ distances for ground-based spray applications of
    • 25 feet for medium or larger sprays when sprayed from a height greater than 12 inches from the soil surface or planting medium; and
    • 100 feet for fine sprays.

EPA is also proposing to retain two provisions in the 2020 AEZ Rule that the Agency believes are consistent with the intent of the 2015 WPS AEZ requirements and are supported by information available to the Agency to provide more clarity and flexibility for farming families. EPA proposes to retain:

  • a clarification that suspended pesticide applications can resume after people leave the AEZ; and,
  • an “immediate family exemption” thatallows only farm owners and the farm owners’ immediate family to remain inside enclosed structures or homes while pesticide applications are made, providing family members flexibility to decide whether to stay on-site during pesticide applications, rather than compelling them to leave even when they feel safe remaining in their own homes.

Upon publication of the federal register notice, the proposed rule will be available for public comment for 60 days in docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2022-0133 at www.regulations.gov.

Sabrina Halvorson
National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.

Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.