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Daily News Blog

11
Mar

Colorado Rancher To Be Jailed for Pesticide Drift

(Beyond Pesticides, March 11, 2016)  A judge found a Colorado rancher to be in violation of a court order that protected his neighbors, organic farmers Rosemary Bilchak and her husband Gordon MacAlpine, who suffers from leukemia, from sprayed pesticides that drifted onto their property. The decision in western Colorado’s North Fork Valley sets a precedent in protecting farmers and sensitive people from pesticides.  State Judge Jeff Herron sentenced Hopper to jail for two days ””and fined him $7,500 ”” ruling that his spraying until 2015  violated a 2012 court order  that protected his neighbors. Despite this court order, records say Mr. Hopper continued spraying through August 2015. Mr. Hopper had obtained a state license to spray pesticides in 2011 after his wife was diagnosed with West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes. However, Mr. Hopper’s neighbors took him to court, claiming the pesticides were harmful to Mr. MacAlpine’s health and prevented them from expanding into organic vegetable production.

Tmunicipal-fogging.jpg-300x225he presiding judge at the time of the 2012 court ruling, Charles Greenacre, determined that an application of the insecticide, Fyfanon, a form of  malathion, had drifted, and thus trespassed, onto the neighboring organic farm of Rosemary Bilchak and her husband, Gordon MacAlpine. In granting the permanent injunction, Judge Greenacre decided that: “Plaintiffs have an interest, shared by the public in general, in not having their property invaded by third persons or things. Plaintiffs also have a specific interest in not having pesticides invade their property because such invasions will delay or negate their efforts to have their property certified for the production of organic crops.”

“This case makes an important and historic contribution,” said Jay Feldman, director of Beyond Pesticides. “When you use a chemical and it moves off the target site, you’re violating the label and you’re putting people at risk and also causing economic damage,” Mr. Feldman said. “Courts need to intervene to enforce the law and protect people.”

According to The Denver Post, state-administered Paonia Mosquito Control District sprayers had tried for years to control mosquitoes that breed in pools, junk, discarded tires and elsewhere across the North Fork Valley. But in 2008, the district switched tactics after Ms. Bilchak led a campaign against pesticides. Growers shifted toward more use of larvicides, injected into pools of water to kill mosquito eggs. Spraying pesticides into the air from a truck at full-grown flying mosquitoes, Ms. Bilchak said, “is like shooting a machine gun to hit a fly on the wall.”

Mr. Hopper responded by taking a state exam and receiving, in June 2011, a Colorado pesticide applicator’s license. He then obtained a London Fogger, an engine-size device with a funnel that he mounted on the back of a pickup. He filled it with fyfanon, a pesticide containing malathion, and sprayed it out in white puffs to eradicate mosquitoes. But those puffs floated in the air onto the adjacent 20-acre property that Mr. Hopper sold in 2005 to Ms. Bilchak and Mr. MacAlpine, farmers who wanted to expand their organic vegetable production.

Mr. MacAlpine suffers from a form of leukemia, court documents show. He and Ms. Bilchak began farming to be able to eat healthier, pesticide-free food, dreading pesticide residues that could suppress Mac Alpine’s immune system.

They applied for an “organic” certification that attorney Mr. Weiner argued would be jeopardized by pesticides. Mr. Weiner also presented evidence from cancer doctors that pesticides could hurt Mr. MacAlpine’s immune system, pressing his case that unwanted white puffs equate to trespassing.

Pesticides can volatilize into the gaseous state and be transported over long distances fairly rapidly through wind and rain. Documented exposure patterns resulting from drift causes particular concerns for children and other sensitive population groups, as adverse health effects such as nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, headaches, rashes, and mental disorientation may appear even when a pesticide is applied according to label directions.

In 2011,  the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled  that pesticides drifting from one farm to another may constitute trespass, and courts in other states have  ruled in favor  of organic farmers. Pesticide drift is not only a problem for organic growers. Pesticide drift has been suspected in the  tree deaths  throughout the East Coast and Midwest. A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that pesticide drift from chemical-intensive farming has  poisoned thousands of farmworkers  and rural residents.

For more information on pesticide drift, read Beyond Pesticides’ report, Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass: Pesticide drift hits homes, schools and other sensitive sites throughout communities. You can see a video of Rosemary Bilchak speaking at Beyond Pesticides’ 2014 National Pesticide Forum here. In addition, please check out Beyond Pesticides’ mosquito management page and extensive work on the most efficacious methods for Public Health  Management Strategy  for  insect-borne diseases. See mosquito management for Zika virus.

Sources: The Denver Post, (download a PDF version of The Denver Post article)

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides

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