EPA Proposes Buffer Zones, Other Measures for Soil Fumigant Pesticides

New safety measures for soil fumigant pesticides will increase protections for agricultural workers and people who live, work, or otherwise spend time near fields that are fumigated, says EPA. For the soil fumigants methyl bromide, chloropicrin, dazomet, metam sodium, and metam potassium, the agency will require a suite of new mitigation measures that will work together to protect human health.

EPA notes that soil fumigants are pesticides that, when injected or incorporated into soil, form a gas that permeates the soil and kills a wide array of soil-borne pests. Fumigants are used on a wide range of crops, primarily potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, and peppers, and when the pesticides dissipate from the soil, workers or bystanders who are exposed to the resulting gases may experience eye or respiratory irritation, or more severe and irreversible effects, depending on the fumigant and level of exposure.

The following mitigation measures are thus designed to work together to protect bystanders and workers:

  • To help ensure safe fumigation practices, users must complete written, site-specific fumigant management plans before fumigations begin.
  • Buffer zones around treated fields will reduce the chances of immediate harmful effects to bystanders from fumigant concentrations in air. Buffers can be adjusted based on the use of other good management practices that also reduce risks to bystanders.
  • Posting requirements will inform bystanders and field workers about the location and timing of fumigations and associated buffer zones so people do not enter these areas.
  • To ensure emergency preparedness, registrants must provide first responders with fumigant-specific safety information and training. Fumigant applicators must monitor buffer zone perimeters or provide emergency response information directly to neighbors.
  • Fumigant registrants must conduct outreach programs to educate community members about fumigants, buffer zones, how to recognize early signs of fumigant exposure, and how to respond appropriately in case of an incident.
  • Fumigant registrants must adopt more stringent worker protection measures, and develop training for fumigation handlers and workers to enhance their knowledge and skills and to promote product stewardship.
  • All soil fumigant products will be classified as restricted-use pesticides, to ensure that only specially trained individuals can apply and oversee fumigant operations.

EPA's decision will also halt the use of methyl bromide on sites where alternatives are available. The newly registered fumigant iodomethane will be reexamined later this year to determine what new mitigation or restrictions are necessary. The soil fumigant 1,3-dichloropropene, which was evaluated previously, may be subject to similar provisions when the soil fumigants are evaluated together again in 2013.

EPA is providing 60 days for public comments on implementation of these measures and will refine the measures as needed. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/soil_fumigants.

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