Prepare for Pesticide Spray Season – Part III: The Pesticide Incident Inspection

Reader Contribution by Jane Heim
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“Everyone deserves to have a place free from chemicals.” (J. Heim)

You have suffered pesticide damage, either to your person or to your property; documented it as best you could; filled out a Pesticide Incident Complaint Form and sent it to your state regulatory agency.

Now the call comes from an inspector representing the Department of Agriculture or your state’s regulatory agency. Here’s what to do next:

1. Set up a time to meet that is convenient for you. If you want someone else to be there with you, plan this out in advance, and know what times that person is available.

2. Have on hand copies of your photos and videos, and your Spray Drift Notebook with any notes that are important.

3. When the inspector arrives, he will have you sign a “Notice of Inspection” or something similar. In Illinois, our form has the following boxes:

Signature of Individual, Date: Hour: (inspection takes place)

Name of Individual; Title

Firm Name: Firm Address

Signature of IDA Employee: County


(Below this will be:)


Be sure to look at this line and see what the inspector has written before you sign it. Usually the inspector will have written in the case number such as:  “Misuse Investigation Case # such and such.” We had an inspector (supposedly “new” but he didn’t try this the year before when he was even “newer,”) who wrote in the word “None” after Violations Suspected before the Notice of Inspection was even signed by the complainant and before the inspector even looked at the damage. This was missed by three complainants but caught by the fourth. After some vocalization about this, the practice was discontinued. If this happens to you, do not sign it. If the inspector says you have to sign it if he is to inspect your property, then call his office and ask why they have already written in the word “none.” (Write down word-for-word what the office says.) In fact, if there is anything you disagree with, do not sign it. Instead contact the enforcement agency, or Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Pesticide Action Network or National Pesticide Information Center. After you have signed the Notice of Inspection Form, you should receive a copy of it. Keep it for your records.

It’s important to note here that a drift incident can happen with NO apparent damage. Anita and Brian Poeppel (co-founders of Spray Drift Education Network) had no apparent damage on their foliage. (They had seen the farmer spraying his field with high winds blowing the pesticide toward the Poeppel’s farm.) The apple tree foliage that was collected on their first complaint looked fine, but evidence of pesticide was found on it almost 30 days  later.

4. If you hand over any samples of damaged plants or sprayed clothing, the inspector should also give you a “Receipt for Pesticide Samples.”

While we’re on the subject of items that may have been contaminated with pesticides, it is important to stress the complainant MUST insist the inspector take lab samples from the area most likely to have received the drift. The whole investigation hinges on the detection of chemical residue. The inspector will not ASK for any evidence you save – clothing, etc. The complainant must be his/her own advocate since the inspector rarely is aggressive in collecting evidence.

This inspection may be the one and only time the complainant can submit evidence into the official record for the complaint. The university professors who were doused with pesticide drift on a Macomb golf course found this out the hard way. The inspector didn’t ask for the contaminated clothing. The complainant and wife expected the IDOA to come back again to collect evidence. Instead the letter with no violation arrived and the clothes were still in the freezer, no doubt contaminated with pesticide.

5. During the actual Inspection:

Point out the areas affected.

Remember what the inspector says, or write down any comments he makes.

Be careful what you say! Although this may not happen in all cases, we have had several cases where the inspector buddied up to the organic farmer,  got him talking about all kinds of things and then took the comments out of context, making the organic farmer sound like a zealot, or down right dumb. (Later on, after the case is closed you will write through The Freedom of Information Act to received your entire case paperwork and be able to view what the inspector actually wrote down – which is often nothing like what you thought.)

6. Be courteous, firm and factual.

7. At the end of your inspection, the inspector will tell you that the investigation will continue. The inspector will need to interview the farmer/company which did the spraying for his/their side of the incident. He will talk with them about the chemicals used, the wind speed, etc.

Here are some actual interesting happenings at pesticide damage inspections last year in Illinois:

During one beehive inspection, the inspector told the complainant (the author),

“Well, there are no dead bees around your hives.”

To which, I replied, “When the bee field force is out in the fields and they are sprayed with insecticide, they do not fly home to die near the threshold of the hive so we can count them. They are never seen again.” (Not to mention the inspector arrived days after the insecticide spray incident.)

Another case involved John, a vineyard owner, who did not see the actual spray drift of his 3 acres of grapes, as he was at work. But he did see damage – small at first – and then more and more. He realized there were pastures and corn fields around, and put in a complaint. The vines closest to the road he lives on were the most damaged.  Indignantly, John told me later the inspector tried to imply it was John who caused the problem with what he sprayed on his own grapes!

In another case, which also involved bees, the inspector said he wanted to see more than a few dead bees around the hive. In fact, he would really like to have a quart jar of them.

Sometimes it seems like you can’t win for losing.


Here are some excerpts – well-written in colloquial fashion – that I want to share with you taken from the Lee-Ogle County ECOVig, entitled, “The Great Grove Creek Crayfish Kill.”

Who gives a damn about crayfish?

Well, I know I do…and I’ve got this six year old great-grandson, T.J. and I’m pretty sure he does, too.

I’m down at the creek crossing hookin’ up my 1”pump and since the riffle where I’d harvested crayfish just the am before was right there beside me, I decided ta take a look ta see how many I’d missed. Right off I spot a big one layin’ belly up, and I’m thinkin’ it’s a shedder. But when I investigate further I discover it’s whole, and just dead. Fresh dead and not rotten.

Then I spot another smaller one layin’ maybe two feet away. And it’s whole and just dead, too. Then I went ta pokin’ round more and had no trouble findin’ lots more in the same condition. Then it became crystal clear that all crayfish in the area, all of ém (not one live one) were stone dead. And then on top some of the protruding rocks I discovered the fresh dead bodies of dragonfly nymphs, which had crawled up there while still alive.

It hit me – Chemicals!

This had to be a chemical kill. I checked five different riffle sites just on our ground here. Many dead but not one live crayfish. And, except for the fishes, the under rock community had suffered a hit as well. As ya might imagine, my temper started risin.’ And I’ve got one, believe me.

Not knowing what to do I called the office of the State D.N.R. in Sterling. “A crayfish kill?” says the lady who’d answered questions with air of skepticism. “Yeah, Crayfish. My stream was alive with ‘em yesterday, and now they’re all dead.” Well, she wants ta know if I’m filing a complaint. And “Yes, I certainly was.” She took down pertinent info, but gave me very little hope that an investigation could be conducted soon. … That’s when I decided I’d better go and collect and preserve the evidence.

(He calls around and talks to someone else from a company.)

They subcontract out aerial spraying. He gave me the name of the flying service and told me that the chemical used was called, “Tombstone.” I called the flyin’ company, got a secretary. After me tellin’ her why I was callin’, she took down my name and number. Told me somebody’d get back ta me.

Since the D.N.R. hadn’t gotten back to me I called the E.P.A. “Crayfish?” the fella responds. “Yeah, crayfish.” He asked me if there were any fish involved? I hadn’t seen evidence of dead fish. Well….that might be a problem. There were plenty of regulations in place with respect to fish, but he wasn’t aware of anything on crayfish.

“Yer kiddin’ me,” was my comeback. “You’ve got to have something on habitat degradation in general. I mean we’re talking about messing with the stream’s food chain. Disrupting ecological balance! You’ve got to have some base regulation that this sort of thing falls under?”

I got a thoughtful response. He’d check.

He promised he’d get back to me. And in not too long he did respond, tellin’ me the people I wanted to talk to on this were the Il. Dept. of Ag.

(He contacts IDOA and fills out the complaint form. An inspector comes out.)

We do basic information exchange right there on his car’s hood. That done he wants me to take him down to the creek where I’d first discovered dead crayfish. I jump on my four-wheeler and he follows me.

Now this is like eight days after the kill. He stands there at streams edge and peers into running water, obviously reluctant to get his feet wet. I’m in the water with sandals on, explaining how and what I’d discovered. I turned a few rocks from under which crayfish once scurried. I explained to him the extent of my search, the dead evidence I’d collected.

From there he’d go check records of flying company He’d file his report and send it down to Springfield. Anything from fines to nothing might result from this. He was up front with me. Lots of time this stuff just gets lost in the shuffle. I told him that I mostly understood. And my expectations weren’t really all that high.

In a few days T.J.’s coming fer another visit. I’m going to try to explain this crayfish kill to him as best I can.

Chemical agricultural. I wonder if he’ll understand, right off, how he’s a victim of it, too. How all of us are. Us and the environment.

Powerful stuff, EcoVig. I couldn’t have said it better.

In my next blog entry, we’ll talk about waiting for the outcome of your inspection in Part IV: The Wait.

In the meantime any questions or comments or sharing of your stories, please email me at or call me at 815-988-2628.

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.

Photo by Fotloia/ASP Inc.