In recent years California has seen an increase in acute poisonings resulting from pesticide drift. Frequently the communities most affected by pesticide drift are low income communities with limited access to medical care.
Last year Lamont, in the San Joaquin Valley, endured two consecutive nights of pesticide poisoning. On Friday, October 3, 2003, 24 residents complained of burning eyes, headaches, nausea and vomiting after a nearby field was treated with the fumigant chloropicrin, which drifted away from the field and into the town. Police on the scene told residents to air out their homes and call 911 again if they felt sick, but there was no investigation to determine the cause of the symptoms. The next evening chloropicrin was again applied to the other side of the same field and 144 people experienced similar symptoms. Had there been an adequate response and investigation on the first night, the second exposure could have been avoided.
Two weeks after the Lamont incident California State Senator Dean Florez, who represents much of the San Joaquin Valley, began a series of hearings with residents of Lamont and other communities impacted by major drift incidents. The hearings revealed the need for an improved protocol for responding to drift incidents and the need for compensation of medical costs for victims.
The Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act, SB 391, would address these two deficiencies. Under the bill, the responsible pesticide applicator would shoulder the cost of immediate, uncompensated medical costs incurred by the victims of pesticide drift. SB 391 will also provide for improved emergency response by expanding existing emergency management plans for hazardous materials to include protocols for pesticide drift incidents.
This summer SB 391 met strong opposition from the agro-chemical industry. The version passed by the state legislature did not include an important pilot project to allow online access to information about especially hazardous and restricted use pesticides (RUPs) that growers are planning to apply. This system would have allowed first responders (as well as the general public) immediate access to information that growers are already required to file on RUPs in a given area. The bill also would have set up programs to train emergency and medical personnel to appropriately respond to drift incidents.
Even in its current form, the Pesticide Drift Exposure Act is an important step in the right direction, providing compensation for victims and raising the profile of this serious risk to public health in the Central Valley and other agricultural areas.
Please contact Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and urge him to sign SB 391 (Florez), the Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act! (Sample message below.)
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:
I'm calling/writing in support of SB 391, the Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act, and to ask Governor Schwarzenegger to sign SB 391. This bill intends to ensure that victims of pesticide drift receive appropriate information, response and respect. Thank you.
Sources: PANUPS, Pesticide Drift Sickens Residents, Jan. 16, 2004; PANUPS, Pesticide Drift Poisons in Central Valley, May 14, 2004.