Experts: School sprays could have played role

By Troy Anderson, Daily Bulletin
Sunday November 9, 1997

FONTANA - Exposure to pesticide, may have contributed to the death of a former Southridge Middle School student, medical experts said last week. Dr. Mark Platt, an electrophysiologist and associate professor of medicine at Loma Linda University, said pesticides that Chrissy Garavito, 15, were exposed to at the school and a nearby park could have aggravated her preexisting heart condition.

"She had prolonged QT syndrome," said Platt, who reviewed Garavito's medical records and is treating Garavito's sister, 20-year-old Dena, for the same condition. "It's a condition that predisposes the heart to (twitch) under certain circumstances."

While a student at Southridge Middle School from 1994-95, Chrissy Garvito suffered several seizures similar to the one she had at Village Park. School records show Garavito was exposed to the pesticides Tempo, Demon, Diazinon, Empire and Dursban at the school. Dursban. - used by Germany during World War II as a nerve gas - and Diazinon are chemical compounds known as organophosphates.

"It appears the seizures were due to her heart irregularities," Platt said. "Some organophosphates can build up in the blood stream over time and can (aggravate) the QT even more. It's possible (pesticides) brought on these irregularities."

In October, Chrissy Garavito's mother, Janine Matelko, raised the question whether her daughter's death may have been related to pesticide exposure. Garavito asked the San Bernardino County Agriculture Department to gather records about pesticides used at the Fontana school.

Since then, she has been seeking to find out if pesticides have endangered the health and lives of other students in the Fontana Unified School District.

Chrissy Garavito died playing softball June 30 at Village Park in south Fontana. She suffered cardiac arrest and stopped breathing for 20 minutes before paramedics revived her. Her parents took her off of life support a week later. She was brain-dead.

Circumstances that could have caused cardiac arrest in Matelko's daughter also include sudden stimuli, such as noises or excitement, along with exposure to pesticides, such as organophosphates, Platt said.

In response to parents' concerns over Chrissy Garavito's death and the safety of their children, district officials announced they will spray only on Fridays after school, notify parents of classroom spraying and seek alternatives to pesticides.

"We take every precaution to be sure all staff and students are safe," Superintendent Karen Harshman said. "To do otherwise would be absolutely insane. As a public agency dealing with people's lives, you take every means possible to ensure their safety."

In late October, the county concluded there was no misuse of pesticides by Stanley Pest Control, the district's pest control contractor.

Matelko is one of six plaintiffs who told a lawsuit against Stanley in April, alleging the company injured
their children by spraying chemicals to kill flies at Jurupa Hills Elementary School. She said she was
disappointed with the Agriculture Department's findings .

She said county investigator Jim Mitchell never questioned any teachers or staff, never verified that Stanley followed pesticide label requirements, never asked if classrooms are ventilated and did not check classrooms for pesticide residues.

"We didn't do an extensive investigation or ask any questions," said Mitchell, a supervising agricultural biologist for the agency. "All we did was gather information. That is all we were requested to do and there was no reason for us to do anything beyond that."

Chrissy Garavito's autopsy report noted she had several fainting episodes with some questionable seizure activity associated with them "three years before she went into cardiac arrest at the softball field."

Dr. Timothy Degner, a Kaiser Permanente pediatric cardiologist who had "some contact" with Chrissy Garavito in the week before she was taken off of life support, said the most common causes for aggravating the condition Chrissy Garavito had are exercise and startling events.

"People identified as having prolonged QT are instructed not to exercise," he said. Chrissy Garavito's condition was not diagnosed until after her death.

Although he could not say the pesticides would have caused her cardiac arrest, Degner, did say certain pesticides can prolong or shorten the QT - defined as the interval between contractions of heart ventricles. Platt said prolonged QT syndrome is a condition that is slowly becoming more well-known but is currently hard to recognize.

"If the child had been diagnosed before she died, the mother could have asked them to not spray," Platt said.

Platt hopes to get a sample of Chrissy Garavito's heart tissues to find out more about her death.

Without a blood sample to determine if any pesticides were in her body, no one may ever know conclusively  if the chemicals triggered her death, he said.

[More about Chrissy and her brother Matt]

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