BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Kern County regulators have imposed $50,250 in fines against two farms after pesticide drifts reportedly sickened five farmworkers.
The county Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards fined Sun Pacific Farming of Maricopa, Calif. and Grapeman Farms of Delano, Calif., after investigating an incident that occurred May 5, according to a news release.
Field workers harvesting cabbage in the Maricopa area west of Interstate 5 complained of an odor after Sun Pacific had treated tangerine orchards with a chlorpyrifos-based pesticide and Grapeman Farms had treated vineyards with a sulfur-based product, county officials said.
Both treatments were within a half-mile of the cabbage harvest, according to the agency.
The Kern County Fire Department was sent after as many as 37 workers experienced symptoms of exposure to the chemicals, including fainting and vomiting, although only five people sought medical treatment.
Sun Pacific was fined $30,250 and Grapeman was penalized $20,000 for not using the pesticides according to their labels and using them in a manner that exposed the workers, according to the release.
Sun Pacific general manager Al Bates and Grapeman food safety officer Rena Rangel did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The fines come as chlorpyrifos is under increasing fire from environmentalists and worker-safety advocates, even after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declined earlier this year to ban the pesticide.
In California, chlorpyrifos is used to tackle pests that can destroy some 60 different crops, including almonds, alfalfa, walnuts, oranges, cotton and grapes. But its use has been declining over the last decade, from more than 2 million pounds in 2005 to about 1.3 million pounds in 2014, the last year for which data is available, according to the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
In recent years, the state has put significant controls on the use of chlorpyrifos, requiring training, licensing and county approval for anyone who uses it. In many cases, farms have found alternative treatments and preventive measures.
Farmworker advocates are citing the Kern County incident as they continue to push to end the use of chlorpyrifos, which is produced by Dow AgroSciences and acts as a contact or stomach poison to pests.