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Children Sprayed at Day Care with Railroad Herbicides

(Beyond Pesticides, July 26, 2007) A company with previous pesticide violations will likely face a significant fine after accidentally spraying children at a day care in Virginia last week with herbicides. Several children were directly sprayed and at least three experienced symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning.

The company, NaturChem, was hired by Norfolk Southern to spray a section of railroad tracks, which they do every three years to suppress unwanted plants along the tracks. Sixteen children were playing outside at the day care, adjacent to the tracks as the NaturChem tanker went by. Four children, who were playing along the fence, were directly sprayed. While day care staff took them inside, washed them and changed their clothes immediately, at least three children had acute symptoms following their exposure, including a bloody nose, diarrhea, eye irritation, and blistering.

The chemicals’ labels prohibit application methods that result in drift to other property or people, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture, and it is illegal to use pesticides in a manner inconsistent with their labeling. This is NaturChem’s second violation in Virginia, following a $2,000 fine in 2005 for causing property damage in Giles County. The company also reached a $194,200 settlement with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture three years ago for 809 separate violations, in what was that state’s largest ever agricultural fine. While the company, with Norfolk Southern, is responsible for the children’s medical expenses related to their exposure and cleanup of the day care’s playground, they will also face a larger fine than for their previous incident in Virginia.

The chemicals that NaturChem sprayed were glyphosate, triclopyr, and imazapyr, according to Angela Harris, a senior toxicologist at the Arkansas-based consulting company Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health. These three chemicals have been linked to a variety of health effects beyond irritation, including cancer, neurotoxicity, and reproductive effects.

However, according to Ms. Harris, the chemicals are relatively harmless. “Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen right then, so the kids don’t have to worry about getting sick tomorrow or anything because of the chemicals,” she said. “Those are really common base chemicals that anyone would spray in their backyard if they were spraying. Those chemicals are deliberately made to be fairly non-toxic to humans because humans use them a lot.” NaturChem’s General Manager, Eddie Johnson, claimed that the chemicals “are not going to hurt anybody.”

The company’s claim is not reassuring parents. Sara Ballou, whose 2-year-old son was sprayed, followed the decontamination routine recommended by a poison control center. “If it’s not a big deal, why are all these things having to happen?” she wondered. “I really want to know why it happened, and I want to be assured that it will never happen again.”

Spraying along railroad tracks and roads is not the only vegetation management option available. For more information on state programs and alternatives, read “The Right Way to Vegetation Mangement” in Pesticides and You (pages 9-17).

Sources: Bristol Herald Courier (July 18, July 19, July 20), Associated Press, WHSV TV


7 Responses to “Children Sprayed at Day Care with Railroad Herbicides”

  1. 1
    Robert Says:

    As a former employee of this company i have to say that it does not suprise me at all to hear about the carelessness used in the spraying of these chemicals.It has been my opinion of the people that are running this company are nothing more than a bunch of bullies,that have no business spraying water on their lawns,more or less hazardous,and yes,they are hazardous chemicals.I hope that for the sake of this country,and the sake of the environment,that these people are shut down for good.

  2. 2
    Diane Says:

    As a parent of one of the children sprayed, I can tell you that several of these children were seriously harmed. It is now almost Thanksgiving and children sre still not ‘healed’. Some have what is expected to be permanent lung and eye damage and are still recieving steroid & breathing treatments. I cannot believe there has not been more of an out cry regarding this incident including locally!

  3. 3
    Keegan Monahan Says:

    As an ex Orkin employee I am disgusted in the fact that the pest control industry thinks that they can hire an employee off the streets with no prior experience and train them for a week or two, give them a truck with a tank full of toxic chemicals and expect them to be safe. Now I head a non-profit (Virginia Toxic Coalition) in the fight to keep our future healthy. I challenged Orkin to turn there red diamond to green.

  4. 4
    Jim Says:

    I also worked for this company and it does not surprise me at all either that this happened. This is what Natur Chem has a reputation of doing, ANYTHING to make a penny no matter what the consequenses are. I highly reccomend that no one use this company for that would be supporting this kind of behavior. I know there are better companies out there doing the same services, because I now work for one that is leaps and bounds more professional than Natur Chem. This is not the first time this type of thing has happened. Do a little research and you will find out for yourself.

  5. 5
    concerned Says:

    this company was just awarded a large multi year spraying contract with the Norfolk Southern that will take them into many states. What are they thinking? I sure they will get somemore great press out of this bunch.

  6. 6
    regulatory Says:

    Just the tip of the iceburg. This group is running afoul in most states at any given time. Proceed with caution.

  7. 7
    Lex Says:

    This is a shame. The whole point of the eco friendly movement is not to spray poisons around kids. Safety first.
    NY Pest Pro

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