Pesticide poisonings increase

The Associated Press
Friday February 16, 2001



FRESNO— The number of pesticide poisonings in California increased by 20 percent in 1999, according to a state report released Thursday. 

The most frequent cause of pesticide illnesses in 1999 were chemicals that drifted from fields or industrial areas. 

There were 1,201 “suspected or confirmed” reports of poisonings in 1999, up from 998 the year before, according to data compiled by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. 

Despite the rise from 1998, the 1999 totals were still low relative to past years. 

“Other than 1998, this is the lowest number of injuries since 1986 (when there were 1,030),” said department spokesman Glenn Brank. 

State officials aren’t sure why the number of poisonings has dropped in recent years, but speculate that a 11.7 million pound decline in pesticide use in 1998 and 1999 may be a factor. 

“In the context of more than 1 million pesticide applications in California every year, the number of injuries does not appear to be out of line,” Brank said. 

The single largest poisoning in 1999 was in the Tulare County farm town of Earlimart, when the toxic pesticide metam-sodium drifted from a neighboring potato field and forced 180 residents to evacuate. Dozens sought medical treatment. 

Wilbur-Ellis Co. agreed to pay $150,000 to settle the case. Half the money was paid as civil penalties and half for medical care of those sickened. 

More than 800 of the reported poisonings happened to people at work. Of those, 555 were agricultural workers. 

Environmentalists said the report covers a mere fraction of the total poisonings. 

“There is a pattern where poisoning seem to be part of business as usual,” said Monica Moore, co-founder of Pesticide Action Network. 

Moore added that state and county officials aren’t eager to fine the agricultural companies responsible for violations. 

The state gathers its information either from two sources: reports that doctors must file with county health or agricultural officials each time they treat pesticide poisoning victims, and worker compensation forms that stricken workers file with the state.