January 25, 2001
Workers Say Chemicals Used in Mosquito Spraying Made Them Ill
By SUSAN SAULNY
Five workers who sprayed pesticides for a city contractor last summer to kill mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus have filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, contending that improper training and prolonged exposure to the chemicals made them sick.
In an affidavit, the men detailed how they were repeatedly saturated with the pesticide Anvil during their nightly spraying shifts, while driving or riding without protective clothing on the backs of trucks. The former sprayers and truck drivers also said they handled and loaded pesticides without training or supervision, contrary to state and federal regulations. Their claims were first reported yesterday by The Daily News.
The men's symptoms included dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headaches, diarrhea, joint pain and shakiness, said Joel Kupferman, the executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, which is representing them in making the claim.
"All they said was that it was completely harmless," said Leslie Rouff, a diamond setter from Crown Heights who took a job as a sprayer because he was out of work. "We didn't get briefed, except about what the chemical does to the mosquito."
In a statement released yesterday, Clarke Mosquito Control Products, the Illinois company hired by the city, denied any negligence or wrongdoing.
The sprayers and drivers "received a state-mandated core course explaining pesticides in general and on-the-job training on their specific positions, including safety measures, during their first week of work," said Laura McGowan, a spokeswoman. "In addition, employees reviewed safety measures through training videos and classroom time."
But Samuel Gowerie, 46, a former sprayer who lives in Brooklyn, said he received "nothing of the sort."
And Kent Smith of the Bronx said that after he filled out an application to operate a spraying truck and had his license approved, he was on a route that same day, without a supervisor.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates municipal pesticide use, requires 40 hours of on-the-job training for seasonal workers under the direct supervision of a certified applicator, as well as eight hours of core training, said Peter Constantakes, a department spokesman. Protective clothing was not required with the use of Anvil, however.
Still, the applicators said they should have been better protected.
"We didn't get training or outfits or anything," Mr. Gowerie said. "They just sent us out to spray and after the very first day I noticed my skin itching and some other things, but I just thought it was because I was tired from working the night shift."
Mr. Gowerie said he did not see a doctor then because he was not covered by medical insurance and did not have enough money to pay a doctor on his own. His worries now focus on the long-term effects of exposure — effects that experts say are not fully known. "I don't feel good about all this," he said. "It's left me very nervous and shaky. I'm just hoping for the best."
A sixth person, a city worker who was inadvertently caught in pesticide mist while working for the Department of Transportation, is also working with Mr. Kupferman to receive compensation for what he says are pesticide-related symptoms.
"The long-term effects are still up for grabs," said Dr. Irwin M. Berlin, chief of pulmonary medicine at Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth, N.J. "But there are some studies that suggest alterations of the immune system and malignancies."
Mr. Constantakes said the Department of Environmental Conservation is taking all the complaints seriously. "We hope to find out if there was a problem," he said. "And if there was a problem, we'll take corrective action."
The label for Anvil states that the pesticide is "harmful if absorbed through the skin; avoid contact with skin, eyes or clothing."
The product is known to be "highly effective and widely used," in addition to being "among the safest of insecticides," according to Dr. Andrew Spielman, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. "If Anvil turns out to be a problem," he said, "we'll have to think about it very carefully."Since the spraying began last year, the State Department of Health has received 14 reports from doctors who believe their patients may have suffered sickness as a result of pesticides, according to Kristine Smith, a department spokeswoman.
Originally published at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/25/nyregion/25SPRA.html