Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Pesticide Drift Sickens Residents
In two separate incidents, more than 150 people in the rural community of Lamont, California were poisoned by pesticide drift. On October 3, 2003, 24 residents of Lamont were enveloped in a cloud of chloropicrin, a highly acutely toxic fumigant applied, without a tarp covering, by Western Farm Services to a field a quarter mile east of their homes. Affected residents suffered burning eyes, headaches, coughing, dizziness, nausea and vomiting and called 911 for emergency medical assistance. Firefighters from Lamont responded, instructing residents to return home, air out their houses and call 911 again if the fumes returned. At the time, fire officials did not contact the Agricultural Commissioner to see if any pesticide applications were in process and later claimed symptoms were not severe and persistent enough to warrant further investigation. The next day chloropicrin was applied to another part of the same, 40 acre field, sickening more than 100 residents. After the second poisoning incident the area was evacuated to a parking lot where victims waited for several hours without food, water or access to bathrooms. Their burning eyes were not even flushed with water.
Tracey Brieger, of Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) states that “Emergency response crews aren’t trained in proper emergency response to pesticide incidents and did not coordinate with the county Agriculture Commissioner. These bureaucratic gaps left people very sick and without proper care.”
Chloropicrin was used in World War I as a chemical warfare agent because it is a potent respiratory and eye irritant. People with asthma, for example are more sensitive, as are children or infants who inhale greater quantities of air per body weight than adults. An air monitoring study of an application of chloropicrin mixed 50:50 with methyl bromide conducted by the California Air Resources Board in Monterey County found concentrations of chloropicrin 1,650 feet from the field exceeding levels likely to cause acute poisoning in one hour of exposure. Residents in Lamont live closer than 1,650 feet, and were exposed considerably longer than one hour.
In the last four years, three of California’s four most serious pesticide poisoning incidents occurred in Kern County. Two of those incidents involved Western Farm Service, a large commercial pesticide operator. On January 6, 2004, Western Farm Service agreed to pay fines after poisoning 250 people in Arvin in July 2002, paying $50,000 to the California Department of Regulation and $10,000 to the Kern County Agricultural Commissioner for investigation costs. Some feel the fines are not a deterrent, Teresa DeAnda of CPR complained, “That’s no punishment, $60,000 to them is like a penny in my pocket.”
Kern County does not require applicators to notify people living near application sites and only requires a quarter mile buffer zone between aerial applications of restricted pesticides and schools or residential areas. Kern County does enforce buffer zones specified by the state or pesticide label for applications of the fumigants metam sodium, 1,3 dichloropropene and methyl bromide. Santa Barbara and other counties south of Kern have taken the initiative to require that all chloropicrin application be covered by tarps and to enforce buffer zones of up to several hundred feet. Santa Barbara also requires a water seal over the tarp and does not allow chloropicrin applications when the air temperature exceeds 75 F.
Last year, a PANNA and CPR report on pesticide drift in California recommended phasing out highly-toxic and high-use fumigants and banning the most drift prone methods of application. The report also recommended the implementation of new drift control measures such as buffer zones and notification requirements, as well the enforcement of existing drift controls, and air monitoring by pesticide manufacturers.
In response to the drift incident, California State Senator Dean Florez held an investigative hearing in mid October. After the hearing, Senator Florez proposed an improved protocol for responding to drift incidents, and a fund to pay medical costs for victims, paid for by fines for pesticide application violations. Until then, victims like Octavio Raygoza remain vulnerable, “We work here. We pay taxes here. There needs to be more thought for people who are suffering.”
Resources:A new Online Pesticide Poisoning Diagnostic Tool has recently been added to the PAN Pesticide Info Database. This search tool allows viewers to identify poisoning symptoms of a known chemical, or find the pesticide involved in a poisoning by entering a crop, type of use, (e.g. insecticide, herbicide, etc.) or geographic location. A user can also find use and toxicity information on a specific pesticide or product.
Sources:“Residents at risk” November 10th, 2003, “Severity of pesticide drift fuels worry” October 10th, 2003, “Pesticide drift yields sanctions” January 6, 2004, The Bakersfield Californian;
Contact: Teresa DeAnda, Californians for Pesticide Reform, firstname.lastname@example.org, ph. (661) 721-2535 or (661) 304-4080
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.
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