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State Health Officials See Sudden Spike in Eastern Washington Pesticide Illnesses

Pesticide drift sickening Eastern Washington orchard workers
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Pesticide drift sickening Eastern Washington orchard workers

7 Eastern Washington counties, including Benton and Franklin, have seen a big jump in these ailments.

Washington State Department of Health officials say in the last two months, over 60 people have been reported suffering from symptoms of pesticide exposure, about twice as many as usual.

Officials say these people, mostly agricultural and orchard workers, have shown signs of coming on contact with pesticides sprayed on trees in what is called “pre-emergent” phase.  These are chemicals applied before the leaves and growth begin to be apparent on fruit trees.

Officials say it’s believed to be what is a called a “drift” event, where pesticides that are applied are carried beyond their intended area due to weather or wind conditions.  They come in contact with people and produce a variety of symptoms including eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, respiratory irritation, skin rashes and more.  Officials did not say if any of the workers were seriously affected beyond these symptoms.

DOH officials say they will be contacting various farmers and agricultural operations to make sure they are applying chemicals correctly and informing workers and other nearby individuals of upcoming chemical applications.

Applicators who are found to have violated spraying and chemical laws can face a range of actions enforced by the Department of Agriculture and Labor and Industries.

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