If there’s a law; and nobody enforces it: Does it actually exist?
Contrary to the media disclosures and quick condemnation that accompanies any health debilitating activity in our cities; the health and well-being of rural residents is of no importance to authorities, the media, or those who perpetrate the injury.
As you read this narrative; think about how differently these acts of misconduct would be treated if they occurred in a metropolitan or suburban setting.
This incident marked a turning point in my life. After many years of pursuing Rural Social Justice through public hearings, letters, speeches and chasing bureaucratic shadows within the law; I had cause to call on the regulatory and clear-cut legislative intent of County, State, and Federal authorities. This chapter recounts how these people “in a position of public trust” answered that call.
The narrative has been organized into a timeline for clarity; and the names have been withheld to keep the focus on their positions and public responsibilities. Everything is fully documented — it’s their actions that tell the story.
06/03/2017 – Day of the Herbicide Poisoning – mid-afternoon – my weather station was reading winds of 16-20 MPH
I was outside on my rider mower, when a high-clearance agricultural boom sprayer entered an adjoining field to the north and sped towards me; spraying me with a cloud of a chemicals.
[These agricultural boom sprayers are designed to ride through fields, above weeds and crops. A typical specification for one of these machines would be: 12 ft. high x 28 ft. long x 12 ft. wide without boom, and 90-120 ft. wide with boom extended. Weight 35,000 lbs. Road speed with boom folded 30-40 mph. Spray application speed with boom unfolded up to 25 mph. A large piece of equipment to use in an area only 300 feet wide.]
At the age of 66; my back stiffens up while seated on the mower and I was unable to get off and move quickly.
I could smell the chemicals as I breathed them in through my mouth and nose.
I immediately went inside and cleaned up and then called the dairy farmer who was renting that field from me to complain – he told me that Helena Chemical was spraying Roundup on that field.
A short time later I received a call from someone at Helena Chemical who informed me that they had spoken with the applicator, but they were rushing to spray before the rain came, and I should take off my clothes and shower — there was not even an apology.
Already cleaned up; with a beer and something to eat; I thought I had put the whole incident behind me.
06/04/2017 – Early Sunday morning
I became aware that I was standing in the middle of the bathroom vomiting all over myself, the toilet and the bathroom floor – and I didn’t even care – I remember getting down on my knees and pushing towels around the floor for a while to clean it up, and feeling completely disconnected from what I was doing – then I went back to bed for 24 hours. More than my stomach was outraged – I did not have a bowel-movement for a week afterwards.
I didn’t realize at the time how much my physical well-being affected my mental outlook: but after a week or so; my thoughts turned from my interior condition to the conditions of my herbicide poisoning.
06/17/2017 – Complaint
As I felt better; I grew angrier at being sprayed, and more worried about any long term effects.
In spite of advice from neighbors; I submitted a herbicide poisoning complaint to the NYSDEC through their website.
Recounting the incident online brought a number of emotions to the surface; but I tried to keep it a fair and accurate description of the events — it later became evident that I was the only one with that concern.
06/17/2017 – Herbicide poisoning investigated by NYSDEC
Two NYSDEC personnel showed up unannounced: one of them interviewed me while the other took photos outside. I was informed some weeks later that the investigation had been concluded and the case had been disposed; but that if I wanted to see the report; I would need to make a FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] request.
08/15/2017 – The records of the NYSDEC Herbicide Poisoning complaint and investigation are disclosed:
It was my fault.
Government oversight agendas make use of a standard set of fallback protocols to short-circuit complaints and maintain business as usual: Discredit the Person, Discredit the Facts, Discredit the Situation, and It’s Legal Anyway. See if you can spot them in this NYSDEC investigative report [names have been withheld, “***” represents redacted text]:
Facts and Information provided by Complainant
The following information was received through the DEC website "Report an Environmental Violation Online" or sent directly by the complainant to an OPP dispatch mailbox:
Who Did It: Helena
What Occurred: 1 was mowing my lawn, when 1 noticed a large high-clearance ag sprayer racing down the adjacent field towards me. It passed me only a few feet [less than 30 ft.] away and covered me with a strong smelling cloud [I was down wind in a 20 mph wind according to my weather station.] I immediately went inside and tried to clean up, but there was nothing I could do about what 1 had already breathed in and absorbed through my nasal passages, and then called the farmer, J-- C--, who was renting the land. Through the windows I could see the boom sprayer flying around the fields which surround my house on three sides. [There are dead patches in my lawn where overspray has killed the grass.] J-- told me it was herbicide/”round-up', and a short while later someone from Helena called and told me they had spoken with the applicator, but they were rushing to spray before the rain came, and I should take off my clothes and shower — there was not even an apology.
Early Sunday morning, the diarrhea started, followed by fairly severe vomiting a couple of hours later. It took over a week before my digestion seemed back to normal, but the anger still remains.
When Did It Occur: On Saturday, June 3, 2017 in the afternoon [around 3:00 pm]
County: Tompkins Municipality: Lansing
Location Or Address: ___ Lansingville Road
How Did It Occur: Reckless endangerment through arrogance and unsafe application of poison by licensed company.
Additional Details: I’m sure they’ll do it again — they’re protected by Ag Law.
Date of Submittal: 06/17/2007
On Saturday, June 17th, at approximately 1500hrs, ECO E-- and 1 met with *** at *** residence. A statement was received from
*** indicating that *** leases *** land. approximately 10.5 acres, to J-- C-- for agricultural work. *** stated that on June 3rd, specialized spraying farm equipment sprayed pesticides in a reckless manner by traveling at a high rate of speed, spraying in high winds (20mph from the North read from *** weather station), and by spraying past the cornfield, into *** |adjacent lawn. *** stated that *** was sprayed with the pesticide. and has been violently sick for the following week. *** contacted J-- C-- who said that the chemical was an herbicide, and *** was later contacted by Helena advising *** to remove *** contaminated clothes and shower if *** was sprayed. Overspray of herbicide was found on the south and east edge of the property.
Upon questioning, *** did not seek medical attention for the spraying and I advised *** to do so. *** did not provide an answer for why *** did not report the incident immediately. *** expressed *** views on farming and that| *** was politically active against farming.
On Wednesday, June 21st, 2017, I visited the C-- Farm located on L-- H-- Rd, T/Lansing. J-- C-- was on vacation, but a farm worker provided the details and contact information for A-- M-- at Helena Chemical. The farm also provided a basic map of pesticide application areas, but was not able to provide a lease for the ___ Lansingville Rd property. 1 contacted A-- and he agreed to meet on Thursday.
On Wednesday. I visited *** as *** was able to find a copy of the lease of the the property Upon investigation of the lease, the lease provided no boundaries or physical descriptors, additionally *** stated that the lease covered 8.5 acres, but *** was leasing the remaining 2 acres on a verbal agreement with J-- C--. The residence and leased farm land are all on one tax parcel. On this visit, I noticed other areas of *** Lawn had dead grass. And **** stated that *** had used roundup herbicide on his lawn.
On Thursday, the 22nd, I met with A-- M-- of Helena Chemical, applicator # C___. A-- had all required, paperwork and licenses. No previous violations with Helena Chemical. A-- was aware of the complaint and disputed the wind speed and high speed of the tractor and stated that the tractors must travel at 12 mph as the dosage rate is fixed.
Helena Chemical was issued Warning No. 20910 for application of pesticide to non-target area, 6NYCRR 325.2(a)
The complainant was contacted via telephone and notified of the outcome of the investigation.
From negative statements intended to discredit my testimony: “*** did not seek medical attention” - “did not provide an answer for why” – “did not report the incident immediately”; to the ludicrous and false claim that I stated I had used roundup herbicide on my lawn, the whole report seems designed to give the impression that I am evasive, if not an outright liar, acting out of malice and hate. It’s a very interesting and revealing response from an NYSDEC investigation that did not even ascertain the wind speed at the time of a herbicide drift complaint.
After dismissing my poisoning; the report spends time quibbling about boundaries and leases. The boundaries were clearly demarked, and unchanged for 20 years
Killing a 3 or 4 foot wide swath of lawn against the strong north winds that were gusting that afternoon would require a boom spraying placement well inside the visible boundaries — a placement that is not consistent with the careful application of herbicide at a speed of “12 mph.”
At no point did the NYSDEC’s investigation document the actual weather conditions — instead, they merely noted that the applicator “disputed the wind speed”. The local NOAA weather station recorded winds of 13-16 MPH with wind gusts of 17 to 23 MPH during that time period – consistent with my own weather station readings. And as I found out later; these boom sprayers are equipped with wind gauges in order to monitor wind conditions while spraying; making it even more suspicious that no actual numbers ever appeared in the report.
The investigators never asked the applicator how, with an unobstructed view from an elevated, glass paneled operator’s cabin, he missed seeing me on a rider mower, and continued spraying; driving past me upwind at a distance of less than 50 feet.
And maybe the most egregious aspect; the NYSDEC investigation never made any mention of the restrictions and conditions of this chemical’s application under Federal law, or under their own regulatory oversight. The exact chemical brand name was never revealed; but the EPA registration document for “Glyphosate 41%” states:
DIRECTIONS FOR USE
It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.
“Do not apply this product in a way that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift. Only protected handlers may be in the area during application.”
“Wind – Drift potential is lowest between wind speeds of 2-10 mph.”
“Sensitive Areas – The pesticide must only be applied when the potential for drift to adjacent sensitive areas (e.g. residential areas, bodies of water, known habitat for threatened or endangered species, non-target crops) is minimal (e.g. when wind is blowing away from the sensitive areas).”
Further research uncovered additional cautions from leading Agricultural colleges:
University of Minnesota Extension - When is it too Windy to Spray?
Perdue University Extension - Reducing Spray Drift from Glyphosate and Growth Regulator
Montana State University Extension - Avoiding Pesticide Drift
Michigan State University Extension
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research & Extension – Mitigating Pesticide Spray Drift
What was Helena Chemical’s motivation? It’s the date of the incident that provides an answer. Roundup is sprayed to kill all the vegetation in a field before the corn is planted; and June 3rd is very late for Central New York. That spring was extremely wet, not just in the amount of rain, but in the frequency of showers. In “rushing to spray before the rain” and fulfil contracts within the short window of dry weather; Helena Chemical deliberately ignored government safety and application regulations.
The NYSDEC did not follow even the basic guidelines for an investigation, and never explored the reasons for the event or tried to identify the immediate and underlying causes.
After this door slamming result to my complaint; I posted the NYSDEC report in a detailed blog about my poisoning,
09/02/2017 – Deadly Drift – Emails were sent to the Tompkins County Legislators and the Lansing Town Board; requesting they review the material in the blog.
There was only one response; then no further communication. No action was ever taken.
While I investigated other Rural Social Justice issues; the need to make another attempt at resolving my own herbicide drift issue grew.
I requested local weather records from NOAA for the day of the incident, and took photos of the incident location from the adjoining field that demonstrated an unobstructed view of that location — even at ground level.
I researched label instructions and application regulations and guidelines from authoritative sources [some of which have already been noted.]
In recounting my poisoning incident to others, I found that incidents of herbicide drift and its effects were not uncommon in the community. While one resident mentioned seeing herbicide drifting onto clothes hung out to dry, another was unaware that herbicide had been sprayed and made no connection to the nausea and other symptoms that he experienced until later. Some spoke of the high rate of cancer in their family, and some agreed to come forward and testify.
The NYSDEC report was reviewed by G-- V--, a laboratory and field scientist with twelve years of inspection experience with the NYS DOH and The Cortland County Health department, where he held the title of Environmental Laboratory Consultant and Sanitarian, respectively. He noted the following:
“The first being an investigative report should be FACTUAL, not INTERPETIVE, as in "Expressed views that was politically active against farming." The second was the use of an exclamation point at the end of "case closed" which to me is highly unprofessional, and may be presenting a bias.”
My plan was to send an unignorable and fully documented account of the incident to authorities: persuading them to take action.
04/18/2019 –An Express Mail envelope containing the NYDEC Investigation Report, NOAA Climatological Data for the day, an Incident location photo, and a detailed letter describing the case and requesting their help was sent to County, State, and Federal representatives and oversight authorities by Certified Mail.
All of them either did not respond, responded flatly that they “had no authority” or it “did not fall under their jurisdiction” — or referred everything to the NYSDEC for a self-investigation of its own misconduct.
A letter from the Regional Director of the NYSDEC with results of that investigation was forwarded to me, with a cover letter, from my State Representative.
07/08/2019 – “Enclosed find a copy of the correspondence recently received from M-- M--, Regional Director the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation . . . Although the Department’s response was not what you hoped for . . .”
The NYSDEC response ignored all the evidence while presenting unsubstantiated arguments for their position:
“DEC has reviewed this matter. For the reasons set forth below, DEC believes that the initial investigation in June 2017 was thorough and the decision not to pursue administrative or criminal enforcement against Helena was proper.”
“While it appears that the complainant would like stronger laws, the complaint about DEC’S investigation can only be answered from the perspective of the then current laws and regulations.”
The Regional Director even added the text of the regulation that “provides the requirements for use and application of pesticides” — but never explained why the then current regulations were inadequate, or provided any actual figures for the wind speed, pesticide drift, wind direction or proximity to human habitation needed to pursue regulatory enforcement.
The applicator’s compliance with Federal label instructions, and the contents of those instructions, was never mentioned. The points brought up by the DOH expert, and all other questions concerning the quality and intent of the original NYSDEC investigation, were never answered or even acknowledged.
The entire response did not include one fact that could be used to hold the Regional Director or the NYSDEC to account for their decisions.
08/01/2019 – A letter sent to my State Representative regarding the inadequacy of the NYSDEC response was not acknowledged.
11/18/2019 – An email follow up complaint to the EPA detailing the case and offering additional information was not acknowledged.
Another spring – I heard loud back-up “beeps” and looked out the window. A high wheel herbicide boom sprayer was carefully backing up, and then moving forward, in the small section of field next to where I was sprayed. This process was repeated for several minutes. It was the first time I had ever seen this behavior, or heard a back-up warning — then I looked across the street and saw someone photographing this display.
If only they had the same level of concern for the health and safety of rural residents.
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