Saturday, August 27, 2016

Aviation firm fined for continuing to use illegal herbicides

Applebee Aviation, which illegally sprayed herbicides upwind of residents of Cedar Valley north of Gold Beach, has been fined $43,552 and had its license revoked for a year for continuing spray operations after the Oregon Department of Agriculture suspended the license last September.

The company owner, Michael Applebee, also has been fined $10,000 and will have his commercial pesticide applicator’s license revoked for a year.

The ODA originally suspended Applebee’s license in September 2015 for “performing aerial herbicide application activities in a faulty, careless or negligent manner,” said Bruce Pokarney, director of communications for the ODA.

An ensuing investigation concluded that Applebee, based in Banks, was in violation of numerous state laws. They included improper hazardous pesticide handling, a 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, Pokarney said.

One of the company’s chemical delivery trucks crashed and spilled 500 gallons of water mixed with glyphosate, as well as jet fuel, off Highway 199 in California near the Smith River a month prior to its license revocation.

And a video taken that year by an employee depicts a Applebee airplane flying toward him as he stands beside his truck on a forested hill near Eugene. He screamed and jumped into his truck, which in the video, was doused in spray.

The ODA signed this most recent order because Applebee Aviation continued its spraying operations despite the license revocations, Pokarney said. After examining Applebee’s pesticide application records, the state agency discovered there had been 16 spray applications performed by the company in violation of its suspended license; four of those sprays were deemed cases of “gross negligence” in the past year.

Applebee did not conduct any of the applications himself, but the ODA suspended his license and fined him because of his role in making the decision to conduct the sprays, Pokarney said.

Applebee Aviation began spraying in the Cedar Valley in mid-September, 2015, shortly after another firm, Pacific Air Research of White City, had its license revoked for a year for the same offenses in the area.

Cedar Valley resident Jim Sweeney said he saw helicopters flying over the area four days after Applebee’s license was suspended last fall. Company’s flight records indicate it was, indeed, Applebee conducting the flights.

And Sweeney was again affected by the spray, he said.

“The wind shifted,” he told the Pilot last fall. “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.”

“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.

The chemicals sprayed included Triclopyr, an endocrine disruptor found in Round-Up, and 2,4-D. It concerned Sweeney and others in the area because they allege to have been sprayed with the same chemicals in 2013.

At that time, about 40 residents said they were immediately affected with blistering rashes, wheezing, raspy breathing, blurry vision, stomach ailments and headaches — some symptoms that still linger today. They also reported that a horse went blind, a dog had to be euthanized and a woman blames the lingering effects of the spraying on a miscarriage.

Some of the residents sued Pacific Air, but the trial was cut short when the plaintiff’s attorney suffered a heart attack in court; there was no one immediately available to replace him.

The residents are reconsidering refiling the suit.

Baby Buffer Bill

In the ensuing years, angry residents working with Beyond Toxics, a nonprofit organization based near Eugene, were able to get the state legislature to pass what was called the Baby Buffer Bill — House Bill 3549 — that provides no-spray buffer zones around homes and schools and established stiffer fines for pesticide violations.

It still leaves Oregon with the most lenient spraying buffer laws in the West, according to the ODA.

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 U.S. Forest Service does not allow spraying on their lands in Oregon.

Laurie Bernstein, a retired fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, said the Baby Buffer Bill doesn’t even address non-fish stream contamination.


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