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Pesticide drift halts harvest southwest of Bakersfield

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - More than 50 farm workers were exposed to a pesticide drift Friday morning southwest of Bakersfield.

The incident shut down harvesting operations after some of those workers complained of sudden illness.

The workers were in the process of harvesting cabbage for Dan Andrews Farms in a field off Copus Road when they began to get sick.

"We started getting an odor, pesticide odor, coming in from the mandarin orchards west of our field," said Efron Zavalza, Supervisor and Food Safety Specialist, Dan Andrews Farms.

Zavalza said a Sun Pacific Farms orchard was sprayed Thursday night with Vulcan, an organophosphate-based chemical that is land applied. 

Health officials said it is highly toxic.

"I'm not pointing fingers or saying it was done incorrectly.  it was just an unfortunate thing the way it was drifted.  The wind came and pushed everything east and you know we were caught in the path," Zavalza said. 

Twelve people reported symptoms of vomiting, nausea and one person fainted. 

The Kern County Fire Department, Kern County Environmental Health and Hazmat immediately responded to the area and did a mass decontamination. 

One person was taken to the hospital. 

An additional twelve workers did not show signs of any symptoms. 

However more than half of the farm workers left before medical aide arrived. 

"Anybody that was exposed, that was here today, we encourage them to seek medical attention immediately.  Don't wait.  Particularly if you're suffering from any symptoms.  Whether it's nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seek medical attention immediately," said Michelle Corson, Public Relations Officer, Kern County Public Health. 

The active ingredient in the insecticide the workers were exposed is Chlorpyrifos. 

It was slated to be banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, but in March that ban was canceled. 

The EPA said there wasn't enough solid evidence. 

Chlorpyrifos is reported to cause severe neurotoxic symptoms in humans if touched, inhaled, or eaten.

It has been banned for residential use for more than 15 years, but can still be used in agriculture. 

Chlorpyrifos is manufactured by the AgroSciences division of Dow Chemical Company.

The EPA's decision delays any potential ban of the pesticide until its next review in 2022. 

The Kern County Health Department has cleared the farming area and said it is safe for people to return. 


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