From Red Bluff Daily News:

Pesticide drift from a commercial strawberry field in the Bend area has a group of residents actively concerned about how the chemicals used will affect their health.

When Sam Sleezer, 37, and his father-in-law Manuel Silveira, 65, installed new scientific devices to measure air quality on their neighboring properties in the Bend area, they hoped that they would find their concerns were unwarranted.

I’m not against farming, Silveira said.

However, results came back that levels of a toxic chemical found were far above safe levels beyond the time frame that it was supposed to be in the air.

The two men brought their concerns to the state capitol March 20 as discussion in the Department of Pesticide Regulation reached a climax over the use of methyl iodide that was approved under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The following day, the manufacturer for methyl iodide pulled the product and decided to no longer distribute it for use in the U.S.

However, similar chemicals, such as methyl bromide and chloropicrin are still in use and part of the compound applied in the Bend strawberry fields.

Concerned about his children, Sam and Manny, ages 3 and 5, who play just feet from the 50-plus acre field, Sleezer is considering moving if the county continues to allow the company to use dangerous chemicals.

Another neighbor already moved because of concerns, he said. There are still 17 children total that live all around the same field.

County officials say that Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., the owners of the field next to the Silveira and Sleezer properties, is within the legal limits and they have no good reason to deny the company a permit to fumigate.

County Agricultural Commissioner Rick Gurrola, who has the authority to approve or deny the grower’s pesticide use permit, based his decision on scientific data and evaluation from a legal standpoint, he said.

There’s risk with all chemicals, Gurrola said.

There’s risk with gasoline.

However, California is one of the most heavily regulated states and many chemicals banned here are used in other states, he said.

The chemicals used by Driscoll are within regulation.

The scientific data collected by the residents is flawed, Gurrola said.

Data was collected incorrectly and they are using uncertified equipment or techniques.

Sleezer and Silveira, who helped form Healthy Tehama Farms, a group of at least 20 individuals who are working to protect the community from dangerous exposure to fumigants, got a grant for $3,000 to perform the air quality tests.

The equipment, Drift Catchers invented by the Pesticide Action Network, collects air samples in small tubes that can be analyzed later for pesticide levels.

After analysis was completed at University of California at Davis, the report showed that over the eight-day study, during and after the fumigants were applied, Nov. 4-11, 2011, concentrations of chloropicrin, a known carcinogen, were on average twice as high as the acceptable levels determined by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

The results imply that lifetime exposure at those levels would cause 151 excess cases of cancer per 1 million people on average.

Silveira bought his property from a man who suffered from thyroid cancer, and with a quick glance across the field, he could name several other neighbors who had incidents of cancer as well.

He and Sleezer had heard complaints about sore throats, burning eyes and other illnesses when the fumigants were used, but nobody could prove it was from the pesticides.

Sleezer, a former soldier, remembered checking the mail in a community locked box next to the strawberry field when he suddenly felt as if he was back inside a gas chamber, he said. He and his wife felt their eyes and throats burning.

Some of the families are given a stipend and asked to stay away for three days when the fumigants are applied.

Sleezer, who works as a child guardian for supervised family visitations, keeps free-range specialty chickens as a hobby.

After a time away, he returned home to a nightmare, he said.

I came home and 28 chickens were strewn all over the yard dead, Sleezer said.

Clearing them out before his sons could see them, he saved some of the animal carcasses to try to find out what killed them.

After some testing, he still doesn’t know why they died, but the timing of the pesticide use was odd, he said.

Healthy Tehama Farms and the Pesticide Action Network have asked three times for the county to deny a permit to Driscoll Strawberry Associates without success.

More.

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