Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Company stopped from spraying pesticides in Oregon • Cedar Valley resident blows whistle on aviation firm

The state Department of Agriculture has obtained a restraining order against Applebee Aviation of Banks, ordering them to cease chemical pesticide spraying in the state — including operations it was recently hired to do in Curry County.

The firm was turned into the agency after an employee was sprayed with herbicides during a timberland operation in April in Douglas County. 

“I had sores and rashes, was spitting up blood and felt very sick after three weeks on the job,” said Darryl Ivy, the whistleblower who filmed the airplane as it flew over him as he leaped to safety in his truck. “I’ve worked in a lot of dangerous occupations before, but had never seen such careless treatment of workers and poor work practices that put all of us, nearby communities and the environment at risk of pesticide contamination.”

He said he felt it was his duty to report what he witnessed to the authorities. Ivy was also slated to speak at a town hall meeting last summer addressing chemical spraying, but he did not make it.

And it has been discovered that the company has made sprays over the Cedar Valley area last month.

Illegal sprays

An ensuing state investigation concluded that Applebee was in violation of numerous state laws, including improper hazardous pesticide handling, the lack of chemical safety data sheets, employees not provided with protective gear, a lack of equipment and vehicle inspections, allowing employees to wash contaminated clothing in public laundromats and not carrying out worker safety inspections, said Bruce Pokarney, director of communications for the ODA.

As recently as last month, an Applebee Aviation chemical delivery truck crashed and spilled 500 gallons of water mixed with glyphosate, as well as jet fuel, just off Highway 199 in California near the Smith River.

Ivy had previously reported to authorities that Applebee did not properly maintain the brakes and pesticide tank seals on its trucks. He provided state agencies with photographs of pesticide trucks with leaking seals and streams of pesticides dripping down the sides of the tanks.

The OSHA investigation also found the company had not properly reported accidents, injuries and deaths of its employees.

The firm is also accused of leaking hazardous, restricted-use herbicides such as atrazine on public roads and parking lots, said Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics, a Eugene-based nonprofit that fights on behalf of people contaminated by chemicals.

On Oct. 1, the state Occupational Safety and health Division cited the company for 12 serious violations of worker safety and protection laws, and fined it $8,850.

Mike Applebee, the owner of the firm, said last week it is being treated unfairly and would release a press release shortly.

But spraying continued even after his license was suspended, Pokarney said.

“On Oct. 8, ODA became aware that Applebee Aviation performed an aerial application of pesticides on Bureau of Land Management lands north of Christmas Valley in Lake County on or around Oct. 1 and 2,” he wrote in a press release Tuesday. “ODA also learned that Applebee Aviation engaged in pesticide application activities in Astoria in Clatsop County on Sept. 26.

“The temporary restraining order was granted because Applebee Aviation knowingly and willfully ignored ODA’s express instructions and engaged in pesticide application activities even though its license was suspended.”

Applebee and Cedar

The license suspension is little consolation for Jim Sweeney of Cedar Valley, northeast of Gold Beach, who says he was affected by herbicides sprayed by Applebee Aviation Sept. 19. The applicator’s flight records indicate the helicopters he saw that day did indeed belong to the firm; they also list the herbicides that were sprayed.

“According to them, it was just outside my prescription area (the area being treated),” Sweeney said, adding that the agency told him a second spraying would be conducted the next day, Sept. 20.

“Well the wind shifted,” he said. “I got sick, the neighbors got sick, my cat got sick, a bird flew into the house, the deer were disoriented — and we’re a mile away.”

Nothing new

He and his neighbors have seen this before.

In October 2013, Cedar Valley residents were sprayed with herbicides from a helicopter operated by Steve Owen of Pacific Air Research of White City. A Portland judge ruled that he illegally sprayed the herbicides Triclopyr, an endocrine disruptor found in Round-Up, and 2,4-D, an herbicide found in Agent Orange.

The chemicals caused instantaneous reactions among about 40 residents, including blistering rashes, wheezing, raspy breathing, blurry vision, stomach ailments and headaches — some symptoms of which still linger today. A horse went blind, a dog had to be euthanized and a woman blames the lingering effects of the spraying on a miscarriage.

Residents fought to get recognition from local and state agencies, with even state Sen. Jeff Kruse demeaning them on the Senate floor this July.

“Those people … who complained,” Kruse said. “I know them — I represent them. I know for a fact that the chemicals sprayed could, in no way, shape or form, could have caused the reactions they (said they) caused.

“I also know those people have a long history of substances and adult beverages that might have contributed to it,” he added. “The two chemicals sprayed did not cause the reactions they have — could not have killed their dogs. They were herbicides. I know this for an absolute fact.”

He later sent apologies via email and telephone, but citizens are still demanding one  from the Senate floor.


The group, however, was able to get House Bill 3549 — the so-called Baby Buffer Bill — approved in the legislature. It provides no-spray buffer zones around homes and schools and established stiffer fines for pesticide violations.

It doesn’t go far enough, said Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics, whose Eugene-based nonprofit works on behalf of those sprayed by chemicals.

Oregon has the weakest laws in the Pacific Northwest regarding buffer zones and spraying operations, according to the ODA, the agency in charge of monitoring and implementing legislation changes

Laurie Bernstein, a retired fish biologist with the Forest Service, said in May 2014, that spray restrictions do not address non-fish stream contamination at all.

Washington, a similar state in regards to timber, topography and precipitation, has buffers of 25 to 200 feet; Idaho has 100-foot buffers around streams. And in Washington, sprayers can’t come within 200 feet of a home; in Idaho it’s a half-mile.

Even the Forest Service does not allow aerial spraying on their lands in Oregon.

Residents have said they feel state laws protects spray operators better than citizens; indeed, this is the only time the ODA has ever gone to court seeking a restraining order against a chemical applicator.

Sweeney and his neighbors — some of whom are multi-generational loggers and have said they understand why the chemical applications are needed — are still fighting for stricter laws, particularly around schools, residences and waterways.

They’re fighting for their property rights for the health of tributaries that provide valuable salmon habitat and drinking water and the health of their families.

“This investigation gives the public an insider’s view of the deplorable safety standards for poisonous pesticides that occur in Oregon,” Arkin said. “State agencies know very well that these violations are common, but it took a whistleblower’s documentation to bring any inquiry and action.”

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