(Beyond Pesticides, October 9, 2007) Two state agencies and the U.S. EPA are close to completing an investigation of the poisoning of over 100 farmworkers in Nevada two weeks ago. Chloropicrin, an agricultural fumigant, drifted to a worker-occupied field, sending 121 laborers to Saint Lyon Medical Center (SLMC) for treatment on the morning of September 26. Upon arrival, the workers were showing symptoms including difficulty breathing, nausea, watery eyes and sore throat. SLMC Administrator Joan Hall said that only 12 of the 121 people required emergency room care, and most returned to work the same afternoon.
Normally, chloropicrin’s off-gas dissipates, but because of a weather inversion the fumigant stayed lower to the ground and drifted more than a half-mile away from its application area to the worker-occupied field. Speaking on behalf of local farming operation Peri & Sons Farms, media contact Tim Cummings said both the Nevada Department of Agriculture and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have concluded their portion of the report, with the remaining piece due from the EPA. Peri & Sons owns both fields, which are located just over a half-mile apart, far enough apart from each other for such applications, according to state regulations and the EPA’s guidelines. Cummings said that findings so far have shown no wrongdoing or incorrect farming practices on the part of Peri & Sons Farms, but that he would reserve further comment until the investigation is complete. Ed Foster, regional manager for the Plant Industry Division of the Nevada Department of Agriculture, said he expects a report by all parties involved to be completed within this week. “It’s pretty cut and dried,” Foster said.
Chloropicrin is non-selective pre-plant soil fumigant with fungicidal, herbicidal, insecticidal, and nematicidal properties, according to the EPA, and is also used to treat wood. The chemical is extremely toxic, with the probable oral lethal dose in a human weighing 150 pounds (70 kg) being 350-3500 mg, or between seven drops and one teaspoonful. According to the substance’s Material Safety Data Sheet, chloropicrin is an irritant, which, in higher doses can cause severe eye irritation and permanent vision impairment including blindness. Chloropicrin may be fatal if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. The MSDS says, at 15 parts per million, it is intolerable to humans for more than a minute’s exposure to eyes. The chemical is also a respiratory irritant, which requires treatment at a medical facility. Source: Reno Gazette-Journal (September 28, October 5)