Pesticide illness cases show jump this spring in Washington

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The state Department of Heath reports a spike in pesticide-related illnesses, with 60 people becoming ill so far this spring.

In total, 15 pesticide exposure events have been reported to the Health Department in the past two months, which is as many as the agency normally sees in a year, spokeswoman Kelly Stowe said.

All of the recent cases have occurred in Eastern Washington in counties with lots of orchards. Most of the exposures are believed to be the result of pesticide drift — when the chemical spray drifts away due to wind or improper application.

Stowe said the two cases reported in Yakima County both affected one person. In one case, an employee was exposed and had to be taken to the emergency room for treatment. In another, a bystander was exposed, but declined medical attention.

The state Department of Agriculture is investigating 13 drift complaints as of Monday, including nine that affected two or more people, said spokesman Hector Castro. The highest number of cases are in Grant and Chelan counties, he added.

“To see this many pesticide drift cases this early in the season is a concern,” Castro said.

The Agriculture Department is only investigating one case in Yakima, in which a fungicide drifted from an orchard onto a neighboring residence. Joel Kangiser, Pesticide Compliance Program manager, said it could be the same situation that the Health Department referred to as the bystander case, but he couldn’t be sure.

Incidents that involve workers exposed on the job are investigated by the Department of Labor and Industries, Kangiser added, which typically explains the difference in case numbers.

His office also issued a news release Monday reminding pesticide applicators to take steps to reduce drift and exposure.

Such steps include evaluating the winds, ensuring that all workers are wearing protective equipment and scouting adjacent areas to make sure no one is in the treatment zone.

Last year, the Agriculture Department pursued enforcement actions in 28 cases of pesticide drift.

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