EPA tool helps growers calculate buffer zones

From Southeast Farm Press

Soil fumigant labels changed in Dec. 2012, requiring applicators to calculate and stick to buffer zones around fields when applying fumigants. A lot of work by the Southeast vegetable industry and the Environmental Protection Agency went into basing the buffer zones’ distances on sound science. And a “toolbox” has been developed to help vegetable growers stay in bounds with the regulations.

High-value crops like vegetables are susceptible to soil diseases, insects, nematodes and weed competition. Prior to planting, growers apply soil fumigants, or gases, to sterilize beds, which are typically wrapped in plastic mulch. They do this to protect against plant-damaging pathogens and to produce vegetables as economically as possible.

After the fumigants’ presence has dissipated enough, vegetables are then planted into the plastic-wrapped bed. This practice has resulted in dramatic yield increases and improved produce quality in the last three decades, and has allowed the Southeast vegetable industry to grow and stay competitive.

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 began to phase in new regulations for soil fumigant applications. Fumigant labels were introduced requiring stricter safety measures, including buffer zones. According to EPA, “A buffer zone provides distance between the application site (i.e., edge of field) and bystanders, allowing airborne residues to disperse before reaching the bystanders. This buffer will reduce the chances that air concentrations where bystanders are located will cause acute adverse health effects.”

The “buffer zone period” starts when any fumigant is dispensed to the soil within an application block or greenhouse. The period lasts for a minimum of 48 hours after the fumigant’s application.

The Soil Fumigant Toolbox is a web-based resource developed by the Environmental Protection Agency to help fumigant applicators navigate what can be 100- to 200-page labels now attached to fumigant products, said Rick Keigwin, director of EPA’s Pesticide Re-evaluation Division, talking to a vegetable session at the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference on Jan. 9.

Read the rest of the story at Southeast Farm Press.

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