Jul 21, 2009
Soil Fumigants Under Fire

On the front page of this issue, you’ll see a story I wrote about EPA’s impending soil fumigant pesticide rules.

The story delves into some of the obstacles fumigant-using growers will be facing soon, such as buffer zones and respirator usage, but as detailed (or not) as it might be, the story barely scratches the surface of this topic.

For one thing, it focuses mainly on strawberry growers, even though tomato, potato, carrot and pepper growers also will feel the effects. Focusing exclusively on strawberries was not my original intention, but strawberry spokespeople were pretty much the only ones who had any perspective on the new rules at the point I was putting the story together. Everybody else either didn’t call me back (which is typical) or was still studying the matter and didn’t feel comfortable saying anything.

Secondly, unless I wanted to write a novel, I couldn’t cover every single safety measure that’s laid out in the new rules. Buffer zones and respirators were controversial enough to merit inclusion, but they certainly aren’t the only obstacles growers have to worry about.

For a lengthy EPA fact sheet on the new rules, you can Google “Implementation of Risk Mitigation Measures for Soil Fumigant Pesticides.”

That’s a lot of typing, I know, but it’s worth it if you want a detailed look at the impending soil fumigant reality.

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find in the fact sheet:

Tarp perforation and removal: Fumigant gases become trapped under tarps and can be released when the tarp is perforated and removed. Handlers perforating and removing tarps could be exposed to air concentrations of concern, according to EPA. To reduce these exposures, the agency is requiring the following:

A minimum interval of five days between application and tarp perforation.

A minimum interval of two hours between perforation and tarp removal.

That handlers stop work or use respiratory protection if irritation is detected.

Use of mechanical devices (such as all-terrain vehicles with cutting implements attached), with few exceptions.

Entry-restricted period: Current labels allow worker re-entry into fumigated fields two to five days after applications are complete. However, there are risks of concern for workers re-entering even after 48 hours. Stakeholder comments indicate that re-entry for non-handler tasks is generally not needed for several days after the application is complete. EPA is extending the time that agricultural workers (non-handlers) are prohibited from entering the treated area. The entry-prohibited period depends on the method of application, but generally the minimum period for worker re-entry will be five days or until after tarps are perforated and removed, according to EPA.

Again, we’re barely scratching the surface of this issue. Expect to see more fumigant stories in this magazine (and on the Web site) in the next year or two. The new rules won’t be fully implemented until 2011, and we might not know the full effect on growers until then.

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