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Federal Government Takes Pesticide Safety Training Out of Budget

Safe? This applicator is wearing rubber gloves and boots, but no respirator.

Safe? This applicator is wearing rubber gloves and boots, but no respirator.

Three major scientific groups concerned with the control of insects and disease are expressing their collective concern that the federal government is turning its back to pesticide safety education. Whereas approximately $2 million was appropriated through the Environmental Protection Agency a decade ago, the budget was zero this year according to information circulated broadly on Monday.

Reduction of federal funding, previously miniscule, makes it impossible for states to adequately monitor the application of more than 90,000 pounds of pesticides to lawns and gardens, as well as exponentially higher amounts utilized in agriculture and structural pest control.

“With nearly a 75 percent reduction in federal support for PSEP (The Pesticide Safety Education Program) over the past decade, there is no question that states will not be able to deliver the same quality of PSEP training or to certify the same number of individuals,” says Carol Ishimaru, APS president.

Nearly a million applicators currently hold pesticide applicator licenses in the United States. Certification is typically conducted at the state level and at the applicators’ expense. Yet in many areas that rely on migrant workers and other potentially uneducated workers who may move state to state, the lack of federal support is seen as evidence of an increasingly dangerous situation for the general public.

And with state budgets getting slashed, the oversight of existing pesticide applicators is essentially non-existent.

All of this, it would seem, points to the selection of locally grown organic food, as well as maintaining landscapes with safe, organic products where pesticides aren’t used in the first place. Since our government has chosen to ignore safety training for pesticide applicators, how can we possibly ensure that our foods and landscapes are safe?

THE RELEASE:

September 12, 2011 — Today scientists with the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA), the American Phytopathological Society (APS) and the Entomological Society of America (ESA) expressed concern about the precarious state of the U.S. Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP). Funding for the program has plummeted in recent years and is now in danger of evaporating completely.

As the nation’s primary pesticide applicator training and education program, PSEP is responsible for ensuring the safety of applicators, other workers and the public, for protecting the environment and for providing guidance in the proper use and security of pesticides.

“In addition to certifying applicators and delivering education on the safe use of pesticides, the program today is tasked to provide guidance on a wide range of pesticide-related topics – from avoiding spray drift and minimizing development of pest resistance to protecting endangered species,” says Lee Van Wychen, science policy director for WSSA.

Collectively, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are responsible for ensuring that the nation’s pesticide training needs are met. Since 1965, federal funds to support PSEP and its coordinators have been provided annually by EPA through USDA’s Cooperative Extension System. In fiscal year 2000, for example, EPA provided $1.9 million for PSEP, but in fiscal year 2011, EPA funding has been eliminated.

The only remaining source of federal funding for PSEP is $500,000 mandated by the Pesticide Registration Improvement Renewal Act (PRIA II), which translates to only $10,000 per state. However, this funding will end in fiscal year 2012 when the statutory authority of PRIA II expires. To compound the problem, most states have significantly reduced their funding for the personnel and basic services needed to support pesticide education through the Cooperative Extension System.

Statistics show close to 900,000 private and commercial applicators holding PSEP certification in 2010, including more than 100,000 new certifications and more than 225,000 applicators pursuing recertification. In addition, the program has educated more than a million other pesticide users.

“With nearly a 75 percent reduction in federal support for PSEP over the past decade, there is no question that states will not be able to deliver the same quality of PSEP training or to certify the same number of individuals,” says Carol Ishimaru, APS president.

Earlier today, WSSA released a technical paper on PSEP that addresses its history, goals and funding. The paper also discusses proposed ideas for ensuring more stable financial resources for PSEP in the future.

Examples include:
Allocating additional dollars from federal and state pesticide product registration fees to cover education on the proper use of pesticides.

Pursuing grants from pesticide companies, commodity groups, conservation groups and others with an interest in pesticide safety education.

Changing policies, regulations and statutes to better support funding. For example, most states direct fines for improper use of pesticides into their general funds. These dollars would be an especially appropriate source of support for pesticide safety education.

“There is no one solution to the increasingly precarious state of the Pesticide Safety Education Program,” Van Wychen says. “A grassroots effort is needed by stakeholders at the state and national level to overcome policy and regulatory impediments and to ensure the program’s sustainability and focus.”

The WSSA technical paper on pesticide safety education is available on the WSSA website: View the technical paper.

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About the Weed Science Society of America:
The Weed Science Society of America, a nonprofit professional society, was founded in 1956 to encourage and promote the development of knowledge concerning weeds and their impact on the environment. The Weed Science Society of America promotes research, education and extension outreach activities related to weeds, provides science-based information to the public and policy makers, and fosters awareness of weeds and their impacts on managed and natural ecosystems, and promotes cooperation among weed science organizations across the nation and around the world. For more information, visit www.wssa.net.
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About the American Phytopathological Society:
The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a nonprofit, professional scientific organization. The research of the organization’s more than 5,000 worldwide members advances the understanding of the science of plant pathology and its application to plant health. For more information, visit www.apsnet.org.
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About the Entomological Society of America:
The Entomological Society of America (ESA) is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has more than 6,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students and hobbyists. For more information, visit www.entsoc.org. .

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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