TOXICS INFORMATION PROJECT (TIP)

P.O. Box 40441, Providence, RI 02940

Tel. 401-351-9193, E-Mail: TIP@toxicsinfo.org

Website:  www.toxicsinfo.org

(Lighting the Way to Less Toxic Living)

 

 

Mother and Children Hurt By Widely Used Lawn Care Pesticides
Issue
Holiday Wish to Stop the Poisoning

 

(BRADENTON, FLORIDA, December 18, 2003) In an effort to alert the public to pesticide poisoning in the state of Florida and to prevent future harm, a registered nurse released today the story of her exposure to hazardous chemicals by a local lawn care company that has left her unable to work.

 

This is a story of a trusting consumer, Brenda Jones, who explains that she hired a lawn care service, TRUGREEN ChemLawn, only to find that the pesticides being used were poisonous.  The commonly used weedkiller, atrazine, and synthetic pyrethroid bug-killer, bifenthrin, applied to her property resulted in the acute poisoning of Ms. Jones and her two children, ages eight and four.  After trying for nearly one year since the incident to recover from the exposure and continuing symptoms, and having received no assistance from the company and state regulators, Ms. Jones says that it is urgent for the public to be aware of her story before more people are poisoned.  “My New Year’s wish,” says Ms. Jones, “is that our county and state regulators wake up to the devastating effect that these toxic chemicals can have on people’s lives.”  If the public were not led to believe that these pesticides were safe, as I was,” she argues, “then perhaps more people would push for laws to protect us from the unnecessary use of these chemicals.” Ms. Jones says she feels misled by the company about the hazards of common lawn chemicals and the failure of regulators to protect her family and the public.

 

The pesticides that poisoned Ms. Jones include the herbicide atrazine and the insecticide bifenthrin. Atrazine, a triazine herbicide, has emerged as one of the most widely used and controversial weed-killers on the market today, manufactured by a number of chemicals including Dow AgroSciences. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), atrazine is known to cause acute effects ranging from fatigue, dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting to eye, skin and respiratory irritation, shortness of breath, and asthma. Numerous studies link the herbicide to prostrate, ovarian, breast and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancers. Synthetic pyrethroids, like bifenthrin, have similar effects including cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pain, and is commonly known to create perpetual heightened sensitivity to chemicals even in low volumes.

 

Ms. Jones describes the incident as typical of lawn care applications in her area and recalls the applicator telling her that the chemicals are so safe that he does not need to wear a mask. Yet as soon as the spraying began, some 15 feet from where she stood, she immediately felt a burning in her chest and throat, developed an incessant cough, and ran into the house. That evening her children began complaining of dizziness and stomach aches, and her dog was wheezing and vomiting.  “The pesticide applicators demonstrate repeatedly that they do not understand the dangers associated with these poisons, or just don’t care how they are harming others,” says Ms. Jones. “Since I was poisoned, I’ve witnessed numerous applicators use poisons two feet from where children are playing, like it’s nothing.”

 

Ms. Jones was diagnosed by her doctor with pesticide-poisoning and has spent much of the last year in doctor’s offices. Her distinguished 15-year career, that has included employment at hospitals like Johns Hopkins Medical Center and Stanford University, has come to an abrupt end. Upon going to a lung specialist for persistent shortness of breath and dizziness, she was told that the damage was irreversible and that her airway was now reactive – a condition with no real treatment except the absence of chemicals in her environment.  

 

Her eight-year old son Jeffrey has been permanently removed from his school due to reactions he gets to pesticide treatments nearby or on the school premises. When Ms. Jones asked the applicator near the school not to spray during school hours, he replied that weed killers and pesticides are registered with the EPA, are safe to use, and will not hurt children.

 

"Atrazine poses a serious cancer risk for millions of Americans and exposure to synthetic pyrethroids is an increasing health problem," says Jay Feldman, Director of Beyond Pesticides in Washington, D.C. “People, including applicators, neglect how toxic these bug and weed killers are only to find themselves caught in a web of illness. Companies, federal and state regulators downplay the hazards of commonly used pesticides.”

 

After three months of leaving messages and trying to figure out how to notify the state of her poisoning, she finally got in touch with the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Entomology and Pest Control. The agency investigated her claim by contacting the lawn care company. State inspector Mark Beynon determined that too much time had elapsed to do an on-site inspection or soil sample. Her case has recently been reopened by his superior.

 

“What happened to Brenda and her family unfortunately is not unique,” says Beyond Pesticides Projects Director, Shawnee Hoover. “We support Ms. Jones in her efforts to warn the public about the hazards of these pesticides. If the government won’t do it – then the people have to.”

 

According to Alan Becker of Florida’s Department of Health, all physicians in Florida are supposed to report pesticide-poisoning incidents to the department. Becker confirms that compliance with the mandatory requirement is very low. Pesticide poisonings are frequently misdiagnosed or go unrecognized, he says. The federal government does not have a system to track pesticide poisoning, having shut down the Pesticide Incident Monitoring System (PIMS) in 1981.

 

“The assault on Ms. Jones and her family will continue as long as lawn care pesticides are allowed to be widely and freely used. There are so many non-toxic alternatives that don’t poison people and the environment,” says Jay Feldman, Director of Beyond Pesticides. “Lawn care pesticide use should stop.”

 

“We are loving parents and would never consent to have our children exposed to any chemical that would harm them,” Ms. Jones says. “If only I had known.”

 

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Lawn Pesticide Poisoning:  A Timeline Of My Story

 

(Part II of the article from Beyond Pesticides, www.beyondpesticides.org)


Brenda Jones RN, Manatee County, Florida, 12/18/03

 

o        Morning of Friday, January 10, 2003 TRUGREEN ChemLawn treats our lawn for broadleaf and cinch bugs.   I told him not to do anything until I took my dog out and returned inside the house. He told me that after the lawn had dried that it was perfectly safe, and that it was so safe that he did not even use a mask. He returned to his truck and I took my dog out.

o        While facing away from him waiting for my dog, and I began to cough and the dog started to wheeze. I turned to see that the applicator had begun to spray only 15-18 feet away from me. I ran to the house coughing and my eyes burning.  By evening I was very sick with nausea, burning throat and sternal area, bad headache, and persistent cough. My children complained of headaches and said they hurt everywhere.

o        Saturday everyone was too ill to get out of bed. I could not stop coughing, was short of breath and extremely tired. My husband and children complained of headaches, stomach pains, and loose stools. The windows were closed but the chemicals were still getting in to our home. The dog vomited a couple times and then was very still and would not eat. I called my medical doctor and left a message.

o        My husband called Tru-Green, and asked for the information about the chemicals that we all had been exposed to. Company sent Material Data Safety Sheet for atrazine and bifentrin. Contacted the Poison Control Center and was told they don’t handle pesticides.

o        Sunday still sick. Left another message on for a doctor to call me. My children were still complaining of headaches and dizziness. I contacted their doctor as well.  Monday morning saw a doctor. My symptoms continued. My physician wrote that I had been exposed to chemicals and gave me a prescription for antibiotics and steroids.

o        After a week I saw another doctor. I was then given an inhaler of steroids. Still no blood work was done to test for chemical exposure.  Two weeks after poisoning, contacted Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was referred to (Florida’s) EPA to report poisoning. Reported with someone in Dept. of Health – wrong person apparently. Got lost in EPA for weeks.

o        Feb. I reported to work but was unable to complete my shift - became symptomatic with dizziness, weakness and tremors.  Contacted Department of Health again and was referred to the (Dept. of Agriculture) Department of Entomology and Pest Control to investigate the chemicals and proper use of them on the day that I was exposed. Left message.

o        Mar. Went back to doctor and was referred to lung specialist. Had MSDS but no one knew how to get inert ingredients.  Lung doctor said my airway was reactive, and that I may always have this problem.

o        The experts on pesticides exposure at the University of South Florida would not see me because they only see patients that are referred by an attorney or by an insurance company. Contacted a pesticide toxicologist. He told me that since it had been several months after exposure, I was at a stage where long-term effects had manifested themselves. Told that there is very little that can be done to decontaminate a person.

o        Apr. Decided to leave Florida due to excessive spraying.  Received a call from state investigator the day before my children and I were leaving Florida. He said the message just got to him.

o        After being away a month I began to feel a little better. My children were not getting sick like when they were around all of the pesticides spraying. They had lots of energy again, and had no complaints of stomach pains, tiredness, weakness or dizziness. By the third month I felt much better and my tremors had stopped, but my airway reacted to areas where chemicals were.

o        Apr. Received a letter from state investigator’s office that they’d talked or met with TRUGREEN Chemlawn and that it’s too late to collect a soil-sample or do on-site investigation.

o        Mid-August returned to our home in Florida. Back two weeks when a few lawns were sprayed with pesticides and my children and I started to become symptomatic again. I worked a few shifts and became dizzy and felt sick.

o        Son having trouble focusing at school and is symptomatic.  Principal says he’s unaware of any pesticide activity on or around property.  Found out that pesticides were being sprayed within yards from the school property. The men spraying do not speak much English. I asked them what they where going to spray and they said “no English.” How can they read the labels for instructions to use these chemicals?

o        Neighboring grounds manager says that weed killers and pesticides are registered with the EPA, are safe to use and will not hurt the children. Refuses not to spray during school hours.

o        Nov. Son is continually ill and is pulled from school to be temporarily home schooled.

 

SINCE MY EXPOSURE:

 

o        Witnessed applicators spraying bushes while children are playing less than a few feet away. Another applicator placed a poison sign in a yard where 7 children were playing. He was getting ready to treat the lawn with the children still playing there. He told me that it was “only weed killer and fertilizer granules, and they won’t hurt the children.” Another neighbor witnessed this applicator spray pesticides and not use granules.

o        My next door neighbor had another pest service come to service her lawn on a windy day. I asked the applicator before he started not to spray because it would end up in my yard and make us very sick. He told me he was doing his job. He began to spray from a large nozzle. The mist was blowing chemicals on to our property. I began filming him through the window. He threw his hose down, came onto my property and banged on my door and yelled at me to stop filming him. Children were scared and crying.

o        Was out walking with my children and dog when I ran into an applicator with a large hose hooked to a truck. She was ready to spray a nature preserve with herbicides (20 ft) away from us.  I informed her that she would poison us if she sprayed with us there, and that I would report her if she started spraying before we left.  She replied, I can’t tell everyone. The number is on the truck out front, go ahead.

 

My cousin was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma at 9 years old and died at thirteen. The cancer that killed her was a type caused by poison exposure, such as pesticides, as a child. I will remember Amanda and every child that I have seen over the past 15 years who has died from cancers linked to pesticide exposures. I will try to educate others to help prevent this from happening to every child that I can. A few weeds or a couple of bugs are not worth becoming ill or dying over!

 

 

Thanks to Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP for this story. Contacts: Jay Feldman

or Shawnee Hoover, 202-543-5450; shoover@beyondpesticides.org    

 

 

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