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Drifting pesticides sicken 20 farmworkers in Washington

Pesticide drift

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(NaturalNews) A cocktail of pesticides sickened 20 farmworkers in a cherry orchard in Washington last April, according to a newly released report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The workers, 19 of whom were women, were the victims of off-target pesticide drift, an occurrence responsible for 31 percent of the state's pesticide-related illnesses.

On April 8, 2014, two tractors pulling pesticide airblast sprayers applied a cocktail of pesticides onto a pear orchard to prevent psylla infestations. Pear psylla is the primarily pear pest in North America and results in deformed fruit, decreasing its commercial value.

In a neighboring cherry orchard, the farmworkers were tying the branches of cherry trees to trellises, a practice that increases fruit yields. The workers, whose ages averaged about 30 years old, were scattered across the cherry orchard within 30 to 350 feet of the nearby pear orchard. According to the CDC, "farmworkers and applicators disagree regarding when the applicators first observed the farmworkers and when the application ceased."

All of the workers became sick within minutes of exposure, prompting the crew leader to dial 9-1-1. Emergency medical personnel decontaminated the workers on the scene before transporting them to the hospital.

The applicator workers wore protective gear including air-purifying respirators and chemical-resistant headgear and reported no symptoms.

Farmworkers immediately fall ill after pesticide exposure, with some reporting symptoms up to two weeks after the incident

The farmworkers reported two or more symptoms consistent with those caused by the pesticides applied to the pear orchard, including neurological, gastrointestinal, ocular and respiratory symptoms.

One hundred percent of the workers reported neurological symptoms, including tingling, pricking and burning sensations of the skin, as well as headaches. Sixteen of the workers sought medical treatment, and eight reported having symptoms up to two weeks after the incident.

Washington state law requires agricultural employers to notify employees prior to pesticide application; however, there is no law that requires notification be extended to neighboring farms, an insufficiency that's resulted in numerous cases of pesticide poisoning.

State testing finds chemical on farmers' clothing, cherry foliage and portable toilet used by the workers

There was "anecdotal evidence" which suggested that the managers of the two orchards notified one another prior to spraying in the past, according to Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) communications. A recent turnover in management staff likely resulted in the lack of communication that caused pesticide-related illness in the 20 farmworkers.

In Washington, certified applicators applying pesticides to more than one acre of agricultural land in a calendar year are required to keep records detailing sprays for seven years. On the day of the incident at 7 a.m., wind speeds measured at zero to 4 miles per hour (mph) and were blowing away from the cherry orchard; however, at the time of the spraying wind speeds changed direction and reached 18 mph.

In a report detailing the incident, Oregon Live provides a breakdown of the pesticides:

  • Pyridaben, a insecticide that was approved in 1994 to be sold in the U.S., is a category II in toxicity, with a label that warns it can be fatal if inhaled. People who handle and apply the chemical need heavy-duty protection equipment, including air-purifying respirators.
  • Novaluron is an insect growth regulator, another category II that was first approved in 2001, which comes with warnings of substantial but temporary eye injury.
  • Triflumizole, a category III in toxicity without any peer-reviewed studies on its effects on living organisms. It was first sold in liquid form in 2007, and can cause irritation to the eyes, gastrointestinal tract and skin.
  • Phosphoric acid is usually not the cause of illness in pesticide mixtures, because it is usually used to achieve pH balance. However, it is a category I -- the highest danger -- in toxicity and can cause irreversible eye damage and skin burns.







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