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Introduction: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Worker Protection Standards is the primary set of legislation aimed at protecting farmworkers from occupational pesticide exposure in the United States. Previous studies suggest that worker adoption of Pesticide Protective Behaviors (PPBs) promoted by WPS is associated with lower urinary pesticide concentrations. However, adoption of PPBs is often outside of the control of individual farmworkers and dependent on workplace factors such as employer provisioning of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and access to trainings/resources.

Methods: We conducted a mixed-method study including urinary pesticide biomonitoring, surveys, and interviews with 62 Latinx farmworkers in southwestern Idaho from April to July 2022. We integrated findings across the various data sources to identify emergent themes relating to farmworkers’ perceptions of workplace compliance with WPS and potential implications for their pesticide risk perceptions, protective behaviors, and urinary pesticide concentrations.

Results: Participants reported some indications of poor workplace compliance with WPS regulations, notably inconsistent access to clean handwashing stations and notification of pesticide applications. Some farmworkers, particularly pesticide applicators, viewed herbicides to be categorically safer than other classes of pesticides such as insecticides; these perceptions appeared to influence protective behaviors, such as the relatively low use of PPE while applying herbicides. These findings are underscored by the higher concentrations of biomarkers of herbicides, but not insecticides, among pesticide applicators compared with non-applicators (e.g. median 2,4-D concentrations = 1.40 µg/L among applicators and 0.69 µg/L among non-applicators). Participants further reported concerns regarding the inadequacy of pesticide safety training, pesticide drift, and the lack of communication regarding pesticide applications on and near fields where they are working.

Discussion: Participants’ perceptions that herbicides are categorically safer than other pesticide classes is in direct conflict with WPS training, raising concerns about discrepancies between WPS instruction and other on-the-job training, as well as the inadequate provisioning of PPE during the application of certain pesticides. Our findings also suggest that current WPS regulations may not sufficiently address farmworkers’ concerns, particularly in regard to pesticide drift.