Farm faces fine for school pesticide fumes
Workers at a sod farm ignored wind conditions while spraying a pesticide that drifted onto Kahuku High and Intermediate School earlier this month, sickening 15 people, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
The fumes closed the campus for three days.
The department says it will fine Ameri-Turf farm up to $1,000 for spraying the pesticide Orthene on 9,000 feet of turf about 300 feet from the school on May 3, Bob Boesch, the department's pesticides program manager, said yesterday.
Besides the wind, the hot weather might have helped carry some pesticide particles to the school, he said.
"They should do it under conditions where they feel they will not contact persons either directly or through the drift," Boesch said. "In this case there was a possibility of drift."
A message left yesterday with a receptionist at Ameri-Turf was not returned. A farm manager had denied using the pesticide.
The company had a violation two years ago for allowing employees to apply pesticide without protective gear, Boesch said.
The noxious odor was detected on campus at about 1:20 p.m., and school officials evacuated 800 to 900 students from two main buildings and portable classrooms to the front lawn. Thirteen students and two teachers who had eye and throat irritation improved later in the day.
Test results of grass samples collected at a fence separating the school from the farm indicated the pesticide reached the campus, Boesch said.
State Rep. Clifton Tsuji, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the case underscores the importance of two bills passed this session to regulate pesticide sales and use.
One measure, which has been signed into law by Gov. Linda Lingle, prohibits the sale of restricted pesticides to an unlicensed pest control applicator. In Hawaii only the fumigant insecticide Vikane would fall in that category, Boesch said.
The other bill, awaiting Lingle's signature, requires pesticide retailers to post warning signs educating consumers about proper disposal, handling and storage of the chemicals, as well as emergency telephone numbers to call in case of an accident.
The Agriculture Department already gives stores cards with information on safe pesticide use, but retailers are not required to distribute them.