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Wednesday, Apr 25 2012 05:54 PM

Fines totaling $32,000 proposed in pesticide drift incident

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

The county plans to issue fines totaling $32,000 in connection with a late March incident where pesticide drift hit a school bus carrying 29 students.

Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Ruben J. Arroyo proposed fines on Wednesday of $30,000 against Inland Crop Dusters, and $2,000 against journeyman pilot Max Hanner.

The fines against Inland and the pilot are for applying the pesticide Lorsban Advanced in conflict with its labeling, according to a notice of proposed action issued against the company. The label states, "Do not apply this product in a way that will contact workers or other people, either directly or through drift."

The department took previous violations by Inland and the pilot into consideration in determining the fine, the notice says.

Hanner and Inland must request a hearing within 20 days to contest the fines. Jay Wilson, Inland's owner, said he will "absolutely" request a hearing.

"The findings I found in the report were a little bit odd to me," Wilson said.

Arroyo said earlier this week that the company and pilot were responsible for three state code violations. The first was using the pesticide in a way that it makes contact with people, and the other two were in connection with allowing material to drift on to the bus and the kids.

Clothing samples taken from the children riding the bus were tested and came back positive for pesticide residue, Arroyo said. The residue found wasn't a high level, but it was there, he said.

Inland Crop Dusters has received seven citations for violations since 1999 and had its license suspended for 30 days in 1997.

The latest incident took place at 7:50 a.m. March 29 when a Rio Bravo-Greeley Union School District bus was in the 25800 block of Stockdale Highway. A crop duster dropped its load and pesticide drifted over the bus.

About 15 students complained of itchy eyes, headaches, upset stomachs and other mild ailments. All but one of the students were treated on school grounds, and no serious injuries were reported.

Superintendent Ernie Unruh said Wednesday he was hesitant to comment about the fines because he hadn't read the report yet. No issues have been reported with the children who were on the bus.

"My big concern is we've had no kids sick and no concerns from parents, and I'm just tickled pink that everyone is safe," he said.

March's incident is the first "priority illness" resulting from an aerial pesticide application in Kern County since 2004, according to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The last priority illness from a ground application was in 2009.

A priority illness is defined as an episode involving death, serious injury or illness requiring hospital admission, or any single injury or illness episode involving five or more people. There have been 10 incidents total in the county since 2000.

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