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Pesticide Drift Sends 23 Farmworkers to the Hospital
(Beyond Pesticides, May 17, 2005)
Vineyard workers in Kern county California were rushed to the hospital May 12th after being exposed to pesticides from a nearby orange field. Four women went into convulsions, others felt dizzy, nauseous, and were experiencing flu like symptoms. According to the County Environmental Health Department, the chemicals used were a combination of Baythroid (cyfluthrin) and Success (spinosad). Contact Beyond Pesticides for more information on these chemicals.

The grove where the spraying occurred was only about 50 feet away, reported the shocked supervisor of the exposed farmworkers to the Bakersfield Californian. He could not believe that they were spraying during the day in such close vicinity. San Joaquin Helicopters was the independent contractor, but the pesticides were sprayed from the ground. The company have made themselves fully available for investigation.

Many workers returned to work the day following the incident, however nearly half had to go back to the hospital because they were still feeling ill.

Dan Starkey from Kern County Environmental Health states, “I think they were just doing the normal application, “It just happened to get the overspray and it happened to be too close.”

Some blame the incident on field supervisors. "I don't blame those who were spraying because they are just following orders. I blame the supervisors who treat us like we are worthless and replaceable because of how many of us there are," one farm worker stated.

Kern County Supervisor, Michael Rubio, plans to work with the Agriculture Commission, EMS, and the pesticide applicators to understand what happened and prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future. The United Farm Worker Union will also be conducting an independent investigation.

TAKE ACTION: Voice your concerns about the inadequate protection of farmworkers and penalties for those who cause harm. California citizens, a UFW-supported pesticide bill is currently before the state legislature, SB 879, introduced by state Sen. Martha Escutia. It requires mandatory fines for pesticide safety violations that pose health or environmental hazards because warnings are ignored, with tragic consequences. In the last fiscal year in Kern county, the agricultural commissioner issued 152 warning letters, but only four fines. This lack of enforcement has led an acceptance of poisoning incidents such as this. SB 879 would require the county agricultural commissioners to truly enforce the law. Send your concerns to your legislators here, click on Take action: 23 farmworkers rushed to the hospital due to pesticide drift.