A Fresno County woman alleges that a crew working on a neighboring farm accidentally sprayed her with a pesticide while she was in her backyard.
Carol Howard, who lives southeast of Fowler, said the incident July 25 made her seriously ill. She went to Clovis Community Medical Center’s emergency room with symptoms including vomiting and burning skin.
“This wasn’t just spray drifting over into my yard. I was soaked,” said the 66-year-old Howard. “I ran into the house to wash off as much as I could.”
Howard said she called the grape farmer — John Paboojian — but didn’t get a response. She also complained to the Fresno County Department of Agriculture on Monday and the agency has launched an investigation.
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We have tried to make sure that we are blowing away from that area, but it still doesn’t seem to matter. I just think she doesn’t want me to spray at all.
John Paboojian, Fowler area grape farmer
Les Wright, Fresno County’s agricultural commissioner, said his office began looking into the incident soon after it was contacted. Investigators took residue samples from the area and are interviewing the pesticide applicators. Wright said he expects a report from the hospital.
The two chemicals involved — Danitol and Altacor — are insecticides that can kill a wide range of bugs.
“As part of our investigation we want to know if the symptoms, as confirmed by a doctor, relate to the chemicals that were used,” Wright said.
Fresno County agriculture officials say pesticide exposure cases are not uncommon in the area. Last year, the county investigated about 100 separate incidents that includes illness reports, complaints and follow-up inspections. In 2015, it has already investigated 110 incidents.
Wright said that if the farmer is found to have violated the rules, he could face a fine.
Paboojian said Friday that isn’t likely to happen because he did nothing wrong.
He acknowledges that two of his employees were spraying his vineyard the day Howard alleges she was made sick, but they didn’t spray her.
“I don’t think she is being very truthful,” Paboojian said.
110 Number of pesticide exposure cases Fresno County has investigated in 2015
Paboojian said that several years ago he used to call Howard in advance to warn her that his crews would be spraying in the area, but he stopped after she continued to complain.
“We have tried to make sure that we are blowing away from that area, but it still doesn’t seem to matter,” Paboojian said. “I just think she doesn’t want me to spray at all.”
Howard said she isn’t opposed to farmers using chemicals. She understands that farmers use weed and bug killers to protect their crops.
“But you are not supposed to be spraying around people,” she said. “I got hit with so much spray that it felt like a chemical peel on my face.”
Wright said that it could take several weeks for the investigation to be completed. And a key piece of information will be results of the residue samples.
“We know the vineyard was sprayed, but how far into the yard did the spray go? And did they fail to turn the spray rig off, or was it wind drift?” Wright said. “There is a lot of story to be told in those samples.”