“A subsequent investigation revealed that a poisonous cloud of a soil fumigant called metam sodium, a known carcinogen as well as reproductive and developmental toxicant, had volatilized more quickly than anticipated from an agricultural field one quarter of a mile away, drifted into the town, and poisoned the residents. Victims were left with fear, lingering illnesses, and medical bills they could not afford to pay.” Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice, by Jill Lindsey Harrison, p. 4.
Although the above quote refers to an incident that happened in California several years ago, If you become aware that pesticide has drifted onto your land - or been sprayed on you directly - you will experience a huge range of emotions from anger to fear to outrage to indignation, much like these California residents.
I would like to share with you words from victims of spray drift who have contacted Spray Drift Education Network to tell us their stories. If you experience any of these emotions during or after a pesticide spray drift incident, please remember You are not alone.
Second Guessing – Who To Believe
“When we called Kraft Fertilizer to talk about the application that was done the night before, Eric laughed and explained confidently the chemicals that were sprayed could have been sprayed right over our greenhouse and it wouldn’t harm a thing. It was a well rehearsed performance – one he probably repeated almost daily during the spray season. Obviously he didn’t know who he was talking to – an organic farmer who knew that was wrong with one successful IDOA misuse complaint under her belt. How many concerned people had called him asking if the chemicals blowing in the wind could harm them, their families, children or pets? How many times had he told the voice on the other end of the phone there was nothing to worry about?”
Reluctance or Feelings of Guilt to File an Official Complaint
Despite repeatedly talking to both the farmer and FS in order to prevent any drift on their property, one Illinois couple finally decided to file an official complaint with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Feelings of guilt, fear of community retaliation and inevitable bad feelings with family members were all deterrents to filing the first complaint. But after 4 successful misuse complaints and an insurance claim for crops lost, this Illinois couple knows they did the right thing with that first complaint and will continue filing official complaints when drift is suspected. “Filing the first complaint confirmed what we suspected all along. The applicators do not like visits from the IDOA and will alter their behavior if they think a complaint will be filed against them.”
Feeling Like the Bad Guy
As one couple points out: “Rain is coming and the spray rig is ready to apply herbicide to the growing crop. But the wind is blowing towards your property. You muster up enough courage to ask the farmer or the applicator if the application can be delayed to avoid any possible drift on your property. The reply is the same old story – “the canopy is closing;” we have to spray before it rains;” “we’ll keep the booms low;” we’re using anti-drift additive and nothing will move.” THEY MUST SPRAY! Who are you to stand in the way of their application? ho are you to possibly cause financial loss if the crop doesn’t get sprayed? You feel like the ‘bad guy’ standing in the way of what happens every day during spray season – pesticide applications being done in conditions that favor drift because they have to get it done.
You are not the bad guy. You are the property owner, the human being, who does have to accept drift on their person or property no matter the urgency by the farmer or applicator.”
What we Go Through Trying to Stop a Spray Drift Situation
“At 6:30AM on August 9, 2012, there was a huge helicopter spraying the power lines right across the back of my property. There I was in my underwear at 6:30 in the morning, jumping up and down trying to get the helicopter to stop spraying. He kept on spraying.” Tom, the victim, had previously talked with the company who ordered the spraying. They agreed there would be no spraying behind Tom’s house. When this incident happened anyway, Tom was so angry he called the helicopter company and said he would sue them for all they were worth. Tom is a very calm, reasonable man but it took until the end of the day before Tom was talking calmly again.
Horrified – Bonnie’s Story
“I don’t know exactly when they did it, but I didn’t realize it until days later when I went out to the property line to gather elder blossoms and saw that the elderberry leaves were brown shriveled and dying. Horrified, I looked at the rest of the trees along the property line and their leaves were turning brown and dying also. The edges of my garden are only 20 feet away from the property line. I’d already eaten tomatoes and beans from my garden, and canned peas, beans and cucumbers. The inside of my mouth had gotten very sore, to the point where I could barely brush my teeth, but I thought it was because I’d eaten no fresh tomatoes for a long time and probably wasn’t used to the acidity.
Furious and horrified, I sent a letter to the owner of the land. There was no reply, so I called the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The IDOA finally sent an inspector; the results were “Misuse of Pesticides,’ and they sent out a warning letter. After I received the answer from IDOA, I called them and asked what chemicals my neighbors had used. The said, ‘He told us he doesn’t know; he doesn’t keep records, but we know from analysis of the leaves that it was 2, 4D, dicamba and mecoprop.’ (Not keeping records is in direct violation of Illinois law, which says an applicator much keep records of pesticide use.)
These guys are farmers? A REAL farmer loves his land. You don’t pour poison on something you love.
These ‘farmers’ stole from me as surely as if they’d broken into my house, knocked me down and take my purse and food. The stole, at the very least, a year out of my life and maybe much more - how will I ever know?”
Every state has a slightly different way of handling reported spray drift incidents, but one thing remains the same where ever you live: when you are the victim you will feel a huge range of emotions. Again, let me urge you to seek help from organizations who are there for you and understand what you are going through. Please get in touch with: Pesticide Action Network, Farm-to Consumer Defense Fund and Spray Drift Education Network (www.spraydriftillinois.com). I welcome your comments. Please feel free to call me at 815-988-2628. Keep a stiff upper lip!
Jane Heim, in 2011, co-founded Spray Drift Education Network (SDEN); a grass roots organization dedicated to helping Illinois citizens report and prevent pesticide drift. She presently lives near Paw Paw, Illinois on 19 organic acres which she is transitioning to a Permaculture Restoration Farm.