Prepare for Pesticide Spray Season – Part IX: Spray Drift With no Apparent Damage

article image

“Well, I don’t see any damage!”  This statement referring to possible pesticide drift is used over and over each spray season.  The wind is up, the pesticide is applied upwind of your property, you get a very strong whiff of chemical, but days afterward you see no apparent damage to any foliage downwind of the chemical application.  You make the effort to communicate with the spray applicator responsible for the application about your pesticide drift concerns and how the smell was so strong. You are very concerned you have been a victim of pesticide drift.  But, not surprisingly, you are met with the response, “Well, I don’t see any damage!”

Trust your instinct. If the wind is blowing towards your property even less than 10 mph the pesticide will drift onto your property even if you see no apparent damage hours and days after the application. The rule is:  If you are not willing to stand on your property downwind of the pesticide application, you must suspect drift.

Actual Pesticide Drift Case

Homeowners in Illinois were concerned each year about the pesticide applications happening in the field bordering their property. Even in calm winds, they could smell the chemical in the air. When they called the FS office responsible for applying the chemicals with their concern, they were told all the usual buzz words – new spray nozzles, large droplets, anti-drift added to the tank mix, and just smelling the chemical doesn’t mean it is drifting.  In other words, FS felt there was no drift happening and they were taking all precautions necessary. And, there was no apparent damage after their pesticide applications.

But that all changed when an application was made with a wind less than 10 mph blowing towards the house. The smell of chemical hung heavy over the farmstead. Tired of not knowing for sure and trusting instinct, the homeowners sent a sample of foliage to a lab to test for glyphosate. The test came back positive. The foliage was from apple trees but the trees showed no apparent damage. A person would never have known the apple trees had been hit with glyphosate. In fact, the level of glyphosate found on the apple trees was in EXCESS of EPA allowable limits making the apples not fit for consumption. And still no apparent damage.

An official Pesticide Incident Complaint was filed with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and even a month after the application, the IDOA found glyphosate residue on the foliage and the applicator received a pesticide drift violation.

There are some important things to take away from this actual pesticide drift incident in Illinois.

• The homeowners were told by the company applying the chemicals they were not drifting and taking all precautions. This is the usual response and you should not consider this a guarantee of no drift. No spray company will never willingly admit they are being negligent.

• The spray company also reassured the homeowners telling them the smell of chemical over their homestead did not mean the chemical was drifting. This is also the mantra of spray applicators. Don’t believe it.

• The homeowners trusted their instinct that smelling the chemical most likely meant the chemical was moving. And they were right!

• There was no apparent damage on the apple tree foliage at any time yet the level of glyphosate on the trees exceeded conventional apple limits.

Please keep in mind when you suspect drift on plants you may possibly consume, the pesticide drift could cause no apparent damage AND the pesticide being used may not be labeled for use on your food crops. For example, your vegetable garden is located next to a corn or soybean field and an application is made while the wind is blowing towards your property with your garden directly downwind of the application. Not only is drift likely but the chemical(s) being applied may not be labeled for the food you are growing.

The homeowners in the drift incident could have filed an official pesticide incident complaint with the Illinois Department of Agriculture instead of getting their own lab testing. Save yourself the time and expense and contact the agency in your state responsible for pesticide drift regulation immediately if you suspect drift.  

Once the inspector arrives to do the inspection, do not let the inspector leave without taking foliage samples. The inspector will most likely claim there is no apparent damage but you know better! 

Trust your instinct! Protect yourselves, your property and your family by filing a pesticide drift complaint whenever you suspect drift whether you see damage or not.

Anita Poppel along with her husband Brian and three children farm organically in central Illinois. They raise vegetables, meat and eggs for their CSA program. Anita is a strong supporter and advocate for local organic food and spray drift awareness. 

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 where she is transitioning to a Permaculture Restoration Farm. She can be reached at 815-988-2628 or read her farm blog.