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Federal Pesticide Laws and Regulations

Federal Pesticide Laws

The United States government mainly through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set standards for pesticide handling and use. Some practices which were suggested for proper use in the past are now required by law. These include such areas as record keeping, transportation, storage and disposal procedures, reentry intervals, filling and mixing methods, etc. For many applicators these practices are already part of a regular routine. For other applicators some adjustment must be made to meet these new requirements. All the new standards are designed to reduce the risks, to both people and the environment.

Goals of This Chapter

  • Become familiar with the names and acronyms of the laws and government agencies involved with pesticides.

  • Understand the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

  • Become familiar with, as well as understand the laws and regulations (in addition to FIFRA) listed in this chapter.

  • Be aware that new laws and regulations will occur in the future.

Federal laws and regulations set the standards for pesticide use. States have the right to be stricter than the federal law. The applicator is responsible for knowing and complying with the federal laws and regulations and the specific requirements in each state they may be working in.

The United States Congress established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 and has mandated that the agency regulate pesticides. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulated pesticides before EPA was created. Through its Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), EPA uses the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to manage its mandate.

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The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

FIFRA was enacted in 1947 replacing the Federal Insecticide Act of 1910 and has been changed (amended) several times since then. The most important amendment to FIFRA was the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (FEPCA) of 1972 which shifted the emphasis of FIFRA from safeguarding the consumer against fraudulent pesticide products, to a role of protecting both public health and the environment.

FIFRA governs the licensing or registration of pesticide products. No pesticide may be marketed in the U.S. until EPA reviews an application for registration, approves each use pattern, and assigns a product registration number. Registration decisions are based upon data demonstrating that the use of a specific pesticide will not result in "unreasonable human health or environmental effects ". In other words, FIFRA balances the risks a pesticide may pose with its benefits to society.

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  • requires that EPA register all pesticides as well as each use of that pesticide and approves the product label.

  • requires the classification of all registered pesticides as either "general use" pesticides which can be used by anyone or "restricted use" pesticides if the environment or user could be harmed even if the pesticide is used as directed (state requirements are often stricter).

  • requires that the users of "restricted use" pesticides must be certified as, or under the direct supervision of either "private" or "commercial" applicators. Certification is to be carried out by the states (except in Colorado and Nebraska which have federal programs).

  • establishes tolerances for residues that may remain on raw agricultural products or in processed food.

  • provides penalties for "use inconsistent with the labeling" of a pesticide.

  • makes it illegal to store or dispose of pesticides or containers other than as directed by regulations and provides penalties for illegal handling of containers.

  • provides civil penalties when the violation of a regulation is unintentional. Fines can be $1,000 for private applicators and others or as much as $5,000 for each offense by commercial applicators. Before EPA can fine you, you have the right to ask for a hearing in your own city or county.

  • provides criminal penalties when the law is knowingly violated. The maximum penalty for private applicators and others is $1,000 and/or 30 days in prison. Commercial applicators may be fined up to $25,000 or one year in prison, or both.

  • permits states to establish stricter standards, but not more permissive standards.

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FIFRA gives EPA the authority to develop regulations. Regulations are interpretations of the law (in this case FIFRA) and have the force of a law. The following are items from EPA's regulations published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 40.

  • provides standards for worker protection

  • provides reentry standards for treated areas

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EPA defines "Reestricted Entry Intervals " as the time immediately following application of a pesticide when unprotected workers may not enter the treated area. The regulations state that:

  • no unprotected person may be in the treated area during pesticide application.

  • no pesticide application is to be permitted that will expose any person to pesticides, either directly or through drift, excepting those involved in the application.

  • if labeling for worker reentry is more restrictive than the general standards specify, the label restrictions must be followed instead of the general regulations.

  • when no reentry time is specified, treated areas can be reentered without protective clothing after the spray has dried or the dust has settled, unless the pesticide is exempt from reentry requirements.

  • warnings of pesticide applications appropriate and timely to the situation are to be given to workers either through oral communication, by posting, or both. Warnings should be given in the language that can be understood by the workers involved.

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The Worker Protection Standard

In August 1992, EPA issued revised regulations (Title 40 CFR Part 170) governing the protection of employees on farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses from occupational exposures to agricultural pesticides. The new Worker Protection Standard (WPS) covers both workers in areas treated with pesticides and employees who handle pesticides for use in these areas.

  • Agricultural workers - those who perform tasks related to the cultivation and harvesting of plants on farms or in greenhouses, nurseries, or forests.

  • Pesticide handlers - those who handle agricultural pesticides (mix, load, apply, clean or repair equipment, act as flaggers, etc.)

The revised regulations are intended to reduce the risk of pesticide poisonings and injuries among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers through appropriate exposure reduction measures. Reducing overall exposure to pesticides will be accomplished by:

  • prohibiting handlers from exposing workers during application.

  • excluding workers from areas being treated and areas under a Restricted Entry Interval (REI).

The standard also mandates notifying workers about treated areas. Mitigating exposures will be accomplished by requiring decontamination supplies and emergency assistance. Workers will be informed about pesticide hazards through required safety training (workers and handlers), safety posters, access to labeling information, and access to specific information about the treated areas.

All of the requirements are described in the "WPS How To Comply" manual. Copies of this manual are available from your local Cooperative Extension office.

Pesticide Registration

Under FIFRA, EPA has registered approximately 50,000 pesticide products. How the EPA handles each registration application depends on whether the product is new or has one or more uses already registered.

New Pesticides or New Formulations(Since 1972)

The law requires EPA to take into account economic, social, and environmental cost and benefits in making decisions. Pesticide registration decisions are based on Agency evaluations of test data provided by the manufacturer. Required studies include testing to show whether a pesticide has the potential to cause adverse effects in humans, fish, wildlife, and endangered species. Potential human risks include acute reactions or eye irritation, as well as possible long-term effects like cancer, birth defects, or reproductive system disorders. Data on "environmental fate," or how a pesticide behaves in the environment, also are required so that EPA can determine, among other things, whether a pesticide poses a threat to ground or surface water. Most registration decisions are for new formulations containing active ingredients already registered with EPA, or new uses of existing products.

Old Pesticides

Old pesticides registered and in use before current scientific standards were established also must be evaluated by the "no unreasonable adverse effects" guidelines applied to new pesticides. This is being accomplished through EPA's Data Call-In program by issuance of "Registration Standards and Reregistration of registered pesticides."

EPA Options for Regulation

In regulating pesticides under FIFRA, EPA chooses from a variety of options. If the risk is to people who mix, load and apply the pesticide, EPA can require:

  • personal protective clothing such as gloves, hats, respirators or chemical-resistant suits.

  • restriction on uses of the pesticide, or require use only by certified pesticide applicators.

  • prohibition of certain formulation types such as dusts, granules, ultra -low volume concentrates or sprays.

  • engineering controls such as enclosed cabs or closed mixing/loading systems.

  • warning statements on the label such as cancer or birth defect risks, to encourage greater compliance with risk reduction measures stated on the label.

  • restrictions on application rates or in the frequency of applications.

  • prohibition of certain application methods such as aerial applications or backpack sprayers.

  • other integrated pest management practices such as mechanical methods or spraying only where infestation has occurred.

If the risk is to farmworkers who reenter treated fields, EPA can require:

  • restricted entry intervals which restrict farmworkers from entering a field for a certain period of time, unless they are wearing specified protective clothing.

  • restriction in formulation type or application rates.

  • oral notification or posting of signs to warn farmworkers that treatment has occurred.

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If the risk is to consumers of crops which have been treated with pesticides, EPA can require:

  • longer preharvest intervals so that residues will have more time to dissipate.

  • changes in the manufacturing process of pesticides to reduce levels of contaminants or impurities.

  • restrictions in the frequency of application and/or rates.

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EPA can also cancel or deny registration for the uses of a pesticide. In such a case, EPA can either cancel or deny certain uses or all uses where risks are particularly high. It is possible that they may deny or gradually remove a pesticide from the marketplace to allow the development of alternative chemicals or technologies.

EPA can suspend the use of a pesticide on a regular or an emergency basis if the Agency believes the pesticide poses an imminent hazard. Suspension halts the use of a pesticide until a decision on its registration can be made through the cancellation process.

Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938

The Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) of 1938 has been amended several times in its history. It is administered by the Food and Drug Administration of the Department of Health and Human Welfare.

FFDCA governs, among other things, pesticide residue levels in food or feed crops marketed in the U.S. Under the FFDCA, EPA has the responsibility for setting tolerances, or maximum legal limits for pesticide residues on food commodities marketed in the U.S. The purpose of the tolerance program is to ensure that U.S. consumers are not exposed to unsafe food-pesticide residue levels. The Food and Drug Administration has the responsibility for enforcing tolerance levels set by EPA. This law:

  • provides for monitoring of food crops for pesticide residues and enforces tolerances.
  • provides for monitoring and enforcement of food additive tolerances and prosecutes violators.

  • works jointly with EPA to register pesticides used on animals.

  • provides for monitoring of pesticide residues in animals by the Meat Inspection Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor. This law:

  • requires any employer with eleven or more employees to keep records of all work-related deaths, injuries and illness and to make periodic reports. Minor injuries needing only first aid treatment need not be recorded. Records must be made if the injury involved medical treatment, loss of consciousness, restriction of work or motion, or transfer to another job.

  • requires investigation of employee complaints that may be related to pesticide use, reentry or accidents.

Hazard Communication Standard (HCS)

This rule written and administered by OSHA, provides protection for employees exposed to hazardous chemicals. Pesticides are considered hazardous chemicals. An employee is defined as a worker who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals under normal operating conditions or in foreseeable emergencies. Exposure or exposed means that an employee is subjected to a hazardous chemical in the course of employment through any route of entry (inhalation, ingestion, skin contact or absorption), and includes potential (i.e. accidental or possible) exposure.

This law:

  • requires employers to read the Standard and understand the provisions and responsibilities of an employer.

  • requires a list of the hazardous chemicals in the work place be made.

  • requires employers to obtain material safety data sheets (MSDS) for all hazardous substances on their list.

  • requires all containers to be labeled.

  • requires a written communication program be developed and implemented.

  • requires that employee training be conducted based upon the chemical list, MSDS and labeling information.

  • employers must create a hazard communication file, and make it available to any employee upon request in a reasonable period of time.

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Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976

The Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency to manage all hazardous wastes.

Under this law:

  • private applicators (farmers) who properly dispose of pesticide wastes, excess pesticides, and triple rinsed empty containers on their own property are in general exempt from the requirements of this law (state requirements are often more strict).

  • others who accumulate 2.2 pounds per month or more waste containing acute hazardous chemical or 2200 pounds of waste (220 pounds in NYS) containing a hazardous chemical are regulated; must register as a generator of hazardous waste and obtain an ID number from EPA and follow certain disposal requirements.

  • triple-rinsed used containers can be disposed of in EPA approved sanitary landfills without an ID number or further regulation. Regulated waste includes unrinsed containers, excess pesticide and pesticide dilutions, rinse water, etc. which contain a listed chemical and cannot be properly used.

To find out if a pesticide is listed in RCRA call:

EPA RCRA Hotline 1-800-424-9346
8:30 am - 7:30 p.m. EST Monday through Friday

  • probably any pesticide not listed as hazardous in RCRA should be treated as hazardous because any flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic waste is considered hazardous even if not on the list. State hazardous waste regulations should also be followed.

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Transportation Safety Act of 1974

The Transportation Safety Act of 1974 authorized the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to declare, issue and enforce hazardous materials regulations for all modes of transportation. These regulations, contained in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR), cover any safety aspect of transporting hazardous materials, including the packing, repacking, handling, describing, labeling, marking, placarding and routing of such materials. Many states have adopted these federal regulations and are enforcing them.

The materials included under this regulation are explosives, compressed gases, flammable liquids and solids, poisons and several other classifications of chemicals. Many pesticides are not defined by the DOT as hazardous although most of the hazard classes defined include pesticides.

The shipper who offers a hazardous material for transportation in commerce shall describe the hazardous material on the shipping paper as required by the regulations. The applicator or carrier may not transport a hazardous material unless it is accompanied by a shipping paper. However, in most cases pesticides do not need shipping papers unless the quantity of the material in one package equals or exceeds the "Reportable Quantity" (RQ) listed in the regulations. A pesticide would be considered a "hazardous substance" if its active ingredient is equal to or greater than the reportable quantity(RQ) per package. When transporting hazardous materials, the shipping paper must be within reach of the driver while in the seat belt. When the driver is away from the vehicle the shipping paper must be on the driver's seat or in the pouch of the vehicle door.

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Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA Title III)

SARA Title III is a Federal Right-to-Know law that affects those that produce or store hazardous chemicals. Pesticide producers, distributors, retailers and some pesticide applicators are among those that must comply with this law. It is designed to inform communities regarding hazardous chemicals located in the vicinity and addresses the need for community emergency response plans in the event of an accident.

Title III has many sections, however, the areas that affect the pesticide applicator, applicator business, or dealer are confined to four sections:

  • section 302 - Emergency planning and notification describes when notification of the state and local officials is required. EPA has assigned a Threshold Planning Quantity (TPQ) for each active ingredient (not total weight of formulated product). When the product in storage is at or above the TPQ the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) must be notified in writing. Each facility is also required to designate a coordinator to work with the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). The state will notify the LEPC that your operation is covered under SARA. This is a one time notification.

  • section 304- Emergency release reporting describes the safety mea -sures when an accidental release (such as a spill) of any extremely hazardous substance occurs. If all the following occur:

    1. the pesticide was spilled.

    2. is covered under SARA Title III.

    3. the spill quantity was greater than the Reportable Quantity (RQ).

    4. and the spill created off-site exposure.

You must:

  1. notify the SERC.
  2. notify the LEPC.
  3. report the release to the National Response Center (1-800-424-8802).

If a pesticide is applied according to the label, the use is exempt from emergency release reporting.

  • section 311 - Material safety data sheet reporting is required under SARA Title III. Employers are required to obtain and keep material safety data sheets and submit copies of each MSDS (or a listing of the MSDS that must be maintained) to their local fire department, the LEPC, and the SERC. There is one exclusion for the section 311 requirement. If a chemical is used solely for household, consumer, or agricultural purposes, then notification is not required.

  • section 312 - This section states that facilities must submit an annual chemical inventory to their local fire department, LEPC, and SERC. This inventory must include all hazardous chemicals stored at the facility at or above 10,000 pounds and any extremely hazardous chemical stored at or above 500 pounds (or 55 gallons) or above the TPQ, whichever is less. Agricultural producers are exempt from this section.

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The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973

The purpose of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is to protect endangered species. The ESA is administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), of the Department of the Interior. The ESA makes it illegal to kill, harm or collect endangered wildlife or fish or remove endangered plants from areas under federal jurisdiction. It also mandates that other federal agencies ensure that any action they carry out or authorize is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species, or to destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat.

The FWS determines whether a species is endangered. An endangered species is a plant or animal which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is one likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The reasons a species becomes endangered or threatened are complex and difficult to correct. Destruction of habitat is one of the major reasons for the decline of some species. Habitat destruction is usually the result of industrial, agricultural, residential or recreational development. Within the United States about 275 animals and 190 plants have been listed as endangered or threatened. Once a species is listed as endangered, the FWS may designate that its critical habitat be protected from destruction or modification in any way.

EPA is required to ensure that registered pesticide use is unlikely to jeopardize endangered species. Jeopardize means that the action "appreciably reduces the likelihood of survival of the species." To accomplish this, EPA estimates the maximum environmental concentration of each pesticide. If this estimated concentration may affect an endangered species the pesticide is referred to the FWS. The FWS determines if the pesticide uses are likely to jeopardize the endangered species. When FWS finds that the uses may cause jeopardy to the endangered species, the agency will recommend alternatives and /or restrict the use of the pesticide within the habitat of the affected species. If the pesticide will adversely affect the species, but not to the point of jeopardy, FWS provides discretionary conservation recommendations.

EPA responds to the FWS jeopardy opinions by making changes to the pesticide label. The new label language may contain specific restrictions or it may direct pesticide applicators to read an Endangered Species Bulletin with directions for the use of the pesticide where endangered species may be affected.

Ultimately, protection of endangered species from pesticides will fall to the pesticide applicator. Preserving the biological diversity of our planet by protecting endangered species will contribute to the overall quality of life. Each plant or animal is part of a complex food chain; break one of the links and others are adversely affected. One disappearing plant can take with it up to thirty other species that depend on it, including insects, higher animals and even other plants.

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Other Regulations

Regulations governing agricultural aircraft operations are administered by the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. It issues commercial and private aircraft operator certificates for such operations under Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 137.

Pesticide regulation is very complex, merging science, public policy, and law. Since scientific knowledge constantly changes, as do the needs of society, the pesticide regulatory process is never at a standstill. EPA continuously updates pesticide decisions as knowledge increases and improves.

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