In June, 2020 the Idaho State Department of Agriculture published a draft rule that removes protections for public health and safety on pesticide use. These include removing restrictions on spraying near schools and hospitals and limits on crop dusting during windy conditions. The proposed rule also makes changes to general pesticide licensing that could result in the inappropriate use of toxic pesticides.

Improper or unintentional spraying and pesticide drift can cause serious harm to farmworkers, public health, water supplies and aquatic health.

The draft rules, which are being developed via a negotiated rulemaking process, follow the recommendation made by the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association during the 2020 Idaho LegislatureWhat this means is that some important protections for public health and farmworker safety could be weakened.

While ICL and others have significant concerns with proposed changes to aerial spraying, there are over 10,000 land-based applicators compared to only 90 licensed aerial applicators. With so many more ground-based licenses, protections for pesticide application on land are also extremely important to safeguard water bodies and public health.

The context also is important. In May 2019, dozens of farmworkers were sickened after being sprayed by a crop duster. Despite clear signs of workers experiencing harmful effects from pesticides, some of whom are still experiencing symptoms, the crop duster only received a warning letter, with no corresponding fines.

The previous rules:

  • Limited application of pesticides when wind speeds >10 mph.
  • Limited application of pesticides within 1/2 mile of communities, unless there was “air movement away from the hazard area.”
  • Limited application of certain toxic phenoxy-based herbicides in lower wind conditions (between 0-10 mph).
  • Prohibited low-flying aerial spraying near schools, communities and hospitals, and required advance notification “through an effective means.”

Now, applicators would be required only to follow the label’s directions. Also, the requirement to notify communities and limitations on flying over undefined “congested areas” will be left to the Federal Aviation Administration, which has not provided any information on how they will ensure proper oversight.

In addition to the changes proposed for aerial application of pesticides, the rule also proposes the establishment of an “Apprentice Applicators License.” This licensing category could increase the likelihood of inexperienced applicators over-spraying or utilizing pesticides inappropriately. Further, the rules only require the apprentice to be in touch with a supervisor via phone.

This rulemaking process is likely to continue through the summer of 2020, with initial comments due July 21, 2020.