The Environmental Protection Agency cited an Oregon helicopter company after hunters complained they were sprayed with herbicides last fall in Eastern Washington, officials said Monday.
The EPA alleges Precision Helicopters Inc. violated federal pesticide laws three times Nov. 2-3 during flights in Franklin County to spray canal-bank weeds with the herbicide 2,4-D.
There were numerous pheasant hunters in the area on those dates, and at least four have filed formal complaints that they were sprayed or hit by drift from a helicopter applying herbicides near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
The hunters complained of headaches, dizziness, stomach cramps and diarrhea after the exposure.
“A herbicide like 2,4-D carries potential dangers for anyone who is sprayed directly or hit by the drift,” Marie Jennings, chief of the EPA’s regional pesticide unit in Seattle, said in a release.
The company violated federal pesticide laws by failing to keep unprotected people out of spray areas and by twice using a much higher concentration of chemical than called for on container labels, said Lyn Frandsen, the EPA’s pesticide compliance officer in Seattle, in a telephone interview Monday.
The label rate for 2,4-D is four quarts in 150 gallons of water. A four-month EPA investigation determined the mixture used in this case was two quarts in five gallons, Frandsen said.
The EPA complaint proposes fines of $500 for each violation, the maximum civil penalty allowed for first offenses by commercial applicators using that category of pesticides.
Precision Helicopters, based in Newberg, Ore., had been hired to spray South Columbia Basin Irrigation District canals to control weeds and small shrubs along canal banks.
Calls to Precision president Dennis Sturdevant, a licensed commercial applicator who piloted the spray helicopter, were referred to Newberg lawyer Michael E. Dunn. The attorney said he could not comment on the EPA complaint because he had not seen it, but then added he would have no comment when it did arrive.
Sturdevant has 20 days from the time he receives the complaint to challenge the EPA allegations and the proposed fines.
The EPA investigation began in December after a formal complaint by John D. Hough of Bainbridge Island, who was hunting in the Wahluke area northeast of Hanford on Nov. 2.
The EPA found at least seven people were hunting in the area over the two days in question, Frandsen said.
Hough, 51, and two other hunters have filed claims against the irrigation district for illnesses they contend they suffered as a result of breathing the chemicals.
“We’re alleging in our complaint that the people were in the spray areas during the applications and immediately after the applications,” he said. “We’re not saying that the person was actually sprayed, but they were exposed and unprotected.”
The EPA action came less than a week after the Federal Aviation Administration concluded there was no evidence to back Hough’s claim that he had been sprayed or exposed to drift.
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