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Pesticide levels called unsafe

Airborne measurements in Tulare County are dangerous, activists say.

By Tim Bragg
The Fresno Bee


LINDSAY — Pesticide-reform activists said Tuesday that their monitoring shows airborne pesticide levels in Tulare County are unsafe.

But county and state pesticide regulators said the group's monitoring needs to be verified before they can react to the report or decide whether pesticide regulations need to be re-evaluated.

The results of the monitoring were unveiled Tuesday by representatives of Californians for Pesticide Reform, the Pesticide Action Network and local community members working on a project based in Lindsay.

The groups set up five "drift catchers," devices they say can be used to help survey levels of pesticides in the air, in Lindsay.

The group says the devices recorded several periods over the past two years where the levels of chlorpyrifos — a pesticide banned for household use but still applied to oranges, cotton and almonds — exceeded government safety levels.

"We want a buffer zone to prevent spraying around vulnerable areas, like schools and houses, so we can protect our children," said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist and program coordinator for the Pesticide Action Network.

Chlorpyrifos kills insects by disrupting their nervous systems. In humans, the toxin can cause headaches, blurred vision and difficulty breathing. It also has been associated with low birth weights in babies, the action network said.

Reeves said the pesticide can get in the air from the drift from spaying or from the natural rising of pesticide fumes into the air when the material is applied on farm fields.

The Pesticide Action Network's analysis of the Lindsay results has been sent to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

"We have received a report that we are studying right now," said Glenn Brank, spokesman for the pesticide regulation agency. "We will take good data from anyone, but we have to verify the monitoring. We have to confirm what the report says."

The pesticide groups also unveiled the results of a community survey conducted in 2005 that showed 41% of the 321 respondents indicated they had pesticides drift on them.

Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Gary Kunkel said the county is working with the groups on the issue of reducing pesticide drift and educating the community on the laws surrounding pesticide application on farm fields.

The county has set up an after-hours number to report incidents of pesticide drift, which are illegal under state law.

But he said the group's air monitoring information needs to be scientifically verified before the county considers whether it needs to make changes in the procedures required of growers and pesticide applicators.

The issue of buffer zones is something the county has talked about with the groups, but he said such zones have to be considered in a practical manner. Otherwise, they could make it impossible to spray even materials that don't cause adverse reactions to humans.

So far this year, county officials have received 62 complaints about pesticide use in the county, with 15 of the complaints regarding pesticide drift, said Bill Deavours, a deputy Tulare County agricultural commissioner who oversees the pesticide department.

Fines for the mishandling and misuse of pesticides range from warnings for minor or first-time problems to fines of up to $5,000 for each person sickened during serious violations.
Staff writer Mark Grossi contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at tbragg@fresnobee.comor (559) 622-2417.