Prepare for Pesticide Spray Season – Part II: Reporting Pesticide Drift

Reader Contribution by Jane Heim
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“…pesticide drift emerges as a systematic though invisible example of widespread chemical contamination.”

“The states hold the primary responsibility for enforcing federal pesticide laws.”

(From Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice, by Jill Lindsey Harrison)

One of the most important steps to take in order to stop and prevent future pesticide drift is to file a complaint with your state’s enforcement agency. According to Jill Harrison, author of the above quotes, the state department of agriculture is responsible for handling pesticide complaints in most states. There are six states which have a separate agency to enforce pesticide complaints. These states are: Alaska, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Find out your state’s contact information before you need it and add it to your dedicated Spray Drift Notebook, as outlined in How To Prepare for the Pesticide Spray Season, Part I. In addition, add the following contacts to your Spray Drift Notebook:

1. Driftwatch – if your state has this organization, Join It! (In Illinois it is on the Illinois Department of Agriculture website.) Its purpose is to show farmers and spraying companies where farms with sensitive crop (including bees) are located, so they will not spray near them. If your state does not have this organization, please work with Leighanne Hahn at Purdue University to get it in your state.

2. Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund – If you are a farmer and you have a spray drift incident (and the incident meets with the mission statement of Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund) you can be represented at no cost to you. A donation of $125 for farmers, $50 for consumers, will make you a member. Their mission statement is: “Defending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense foods.”

3. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has a mission of: “Building sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.” This includes “chemical trespass.”

Have these organizations, their websites and their phone numbers written in your Dedicated Notebook.

For this article, I will use the State of Illinois Department of Agriculture as an example of how to report a spray drift incident.

How To Report A Pesticide Drift Incident:

1. Contact the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) for a Pesticide Incident Complaint Form. You can do this by calling IDOA at 1-800-641-3934 or contact: (Your state will have a similar protocol.)

2. You can either have the form mailed to you or download it from the agency’s website. Naturally time is of the essence here, so we encourage you to download the form as quickly as possible.

3. Fill out the form. If you have already written down the pertinent information concerning your incident in your dedicated Spray Drift Notebook, you have a leg up. If not, compose a straight forward, facts-only, complete recounting of the incident. Be sure to include all conversations and correspondence between yourself and the pesticide applicator.

The form will likely have a section for Complainant Information where you fill in your personal information. Under the Complaint Information section, there will be space for: Date of incident; Applicator type involved; Name of applicator (if known); Company name (if known); address; telephone number; Method of application (ground, aerial, liquid spray or granular); Chemical involved (if known); and Specific nature of the complaint.

Remember, your complaint can still be filed even if you cannot fill in all the Complaint information and a witness is not required. What is important is to file the complaint with as much information as you can provide and return it to the IDOA so the investigation can begin.

Below is an actual written description of a 2012 incident as included under the Specific Nature of the Complaint on the IDOA Pesticide incident Complaint Form. The IDOA did find a violation:

“Our two sons and myself were outdoors when the first flight over our home occurred. No warning was given to us, in respect for our bee hives located in the back three acres of our property. The pilot released the spray as he entered into our prairie – where the hives are located – about 200’ away from our home. The smell was so intense, and since he was spraying so close (to) our home, the children ran indoors, and we closed all the windows it was that thick. I then proceeded to video tape the plane closely passing over our home and then again release the spray a 2nd and 3rd time, each time into our prairie and onto our hives. The pilot continued his spraying in the outer fields, and then, as I was leaving by car, and I was parked in the drive, he passed feet away from the tops of our trees on the north side of our property and released a “puff” of spray directly onto my garden and flew nearly 10’ from the top (of) our home.”

4. Make a copy of the completed form and mail it to your enforcement agency. In this case mail it to: Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Environmental Programs, State Fairgrounds, P. O. Box 19281, Springfield, IL 62794-9281. Keep a copy of your completed form in your Spray Drift Notebook.

5. Complaints must be received by IDOA within 30 days of the incident or within 30 days of when the damage was first noticed. Your state will have similar time constraints. Be sure you know what they are, and follow them. As previously stated, time is of the essence, so get your complaint filed as soon as you are able.

6. If you have the financial means to do so, we encourage you to send samples of affected plants to a third party laboratory for testing. You can find recommended labs at It’s important to note that the state department of agriculture will not give credence to the results from a lab other than their own lab. However, it is still another important piece of action to take – especially if you are working with the chemical sprayer’s insurance company or your case ever becomes part of a lawsuit.

7. Continue to keep detailed notes of every conversation, phone call and correspondences concerning your pesticide drift complaint.

8. To help other organizations keep track of spray drift incidents across the United States, please contact the following with your complaint: National Pesticide Information Center and Spray Drift Education Network.

What happens next?

A state enforcement agency inspector will contact you and most likely make an appointment to visit the location of your drift incident. We will discuss the inspector’s visit in the next installment: “Part III: The Inspection.”

On another note: Pesticide Action Network sent out an email that we at Spray Drift Education Network want to share with you.

‘Smart on Pesticides’ bill draws industry fire

Access to information can be a powerful thing. The pesticide industry understands this, which must be why they’re fighting tooth and nail to block – for the third time – a commonsense law that would require pesticide use reporting in Maryland. But the people of Maryland are fighting back. A strong coalition has formed around the “Smart on Pesticides” law, which is being considered right now by state legislators. They’re making the case that children, communities and precious Chesapeake Bay will all be better protected if decision makers know what pesticides are being used and where. A very simple – and very smart – idea.

Spray Drift Education Network applauds the people of Maryland who are fighting back. This is a vital issue that every state should be implementing. Please give it serious consideration for your state!

I welcome any comments you may have. Please feel free to ask additional questions or relate your story. You can also call Spray Drift Education Network at 815-988-2628. I look forward to hearing from you.

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 from Fotolia/Mark Bond