New risk reduction measures for nursery soil fumigation

Nursery growers need to be aware of these new regulations when applying soil fumigants to fields.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of the registration process for the soil fumigants methyl bromide, chloropicrin, metam sodium/metham potassium and dazomet, has a new set of rules and regulations that have been put in place to reduce potential direct exposure to toxic concentrations, reduce the likelihood of accidents and errors, foster planning and compliance and assure the proper response if any exposure occurs. Most nursery applications of soil fumigants are made by commercial applicators in Michigan. These companies are already contacting their customers with educational information on how they will work together to make sure the proper procedures and paperwork are completed before, during, and after a soil fumigant is applied to the farm.

During the 2011-2012 seasons, EPA will be assisting growers and applicators to learn how to comply with the new regulations and new labels. Beginning in 2012-2013, EPA through the Michigan Department of Agriculture will do compliance monitoring of fumigation applications to ensure compliance with the new labels. They also will respond to complaints if received.

Highlights of the new labels and rules

Personal protective equipment. New labels will require a full-face respirator with approved canister or cartridges to be available when tarp perforation occurs, as well as having a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) on the farm. Also, air monitoring needs to occur if sensory irritation occurs. Work must cease and air monitoring needs to occur prior to re-entering the treated field to remove tarps. Growers who remove tarps must have those TWO employees trained under the Worker Protection Standards as “handlers” and they also must be provided a special fumigation information leaflet developed by EPA.

Tarps. Tarps must not be perforated until 120 hours (5 days) after application ends. Also, if fields are to be seeded or transplanted after the tarps are perforated and removed, a two-hour wait must occur.

Fumigant management plan. A written plan must be developed for each site that is fumigated. The applicator will work with the grower to develop the plan and a copy must be on file with both parties.

Buffer zones. In 2012, buffer zones must be in place for all sites receiving fumigation. These will be no less than 25 feet around the perimeter of the treated area. Posting signs warning bystanders to stay out of the treated area and buffer zone will be required. A buffer zone lasts for 48 hours after treatment. EPA has allowed a buffer zone credit system that will assist growers to reduce the original buffer zone by up to 80% for certain practices. A list of credits is noted on the EPA web site.

For additional information on understanding your role in all of these processes, contact your commercial fumigant applicator and go to the EPA website and “Soil Fumigant Tool Box.”

If you have further questions, please contact Tom Dudek at (616) 994-4580 or email Special thanks to Dr. Larry Olsen for his input into this article.

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