Steve writes to the Aerial Pesticide Sprayer(s)

Subject: (Mississippi) Crop Dusters...............A point of view?
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 16:12:47 -0400
From: "Steve Tvedten" <>
Organization: Get Set, Inc.
To: "Bill Lavender" <>, "Dick Reade" <>,
"Glenn Holloway" <>

Dear Mississippi "Aerial Applicators of Crop Protection Products" - I thought you all might like to read the following two articles, the first is from The Miami Herald dated October 10, 2001 by Donna E. Shalala and is entitled:

Healthy nation, strong nation

Prepare for crises and respond to daily public- health needs.

As Americans become increasingly concerned with our ability to contend with an attack involving chemical or biological agents, as the recent cases of anthrax show, we should consider the implications of this scenario:

In a community, doctors notice an influx of patients complaining of headaches, nausea and dizziness. First it's diagnosed as a flu outbreak, but as patients deteriorate, doctors suspect something else.

Patient symptoms are linked to exposure to a nerve-gas-type agent. Alarmed officials consider evacuating thousands of residents. Soon, public-health professionals enter the scene. They determine who is most at risk, clearing the way for a targeted, rational response that prioritizes treatment, calms fears, avoids broad panic, saves millions of dollars in unnecessary expenditures and, most important, saves lives.

This is a true story. It happened in Jackson County, Miss., in 1996. There, more than 1,000 people were exposed to a chemical that had been illegally sprayed by pest exterminators.

What does this event tell us about America's ability to deal with a chemical or biological assault? That our public-health and medical professionals are in critical need of the training, resources and communications networks that will allow them to quickly detect and respond to chemical or biological threats to public health.

The bad news from Jackson County is that doctors were slow to recognize what was wrong with their patients while the initial response from authorities leaned heavily toward a massive evacuation that was not warranted. The good news is that no one died. In addition, public-health advocates have been learning lessons from this episode long before the Sept. 11 attacks and the ensuing debate about our preparedness for chemical or biological terror.

This analysis also has been a broader probing of the gaps in our public-health infrastructure that impede our ability to respond to perilous health events. These include exposures to hazardous toxins, whether introduced by terrorists or by a sloppy exterminator, and the sudden spread of a potentially lethal infectious disease, be it through the malicious release of genetically modified smallpox by a rogue state, or a spontaneous eruption of dengue fever.

Once loosed upon the population, any exposure or outbreak becomes a public-health event. Even if the specter of chemical and biological terrorism did not loom large, our growing knowledge about the relationship between environmental exposures and human health justifies the action that the federal government is contemplating in the name of national security.

In a report released last year, the Pew Environmental Health Commission said that the situation in Jackson County demonstrates the need for a much-improved national public-health network. It notes that communication and information flow among medical and public-health professionals at local, state and national levels need to become matters of routine, rather than ad hoc interactions that occur only in a crisis.

National health experts have long agreed that America needs to strengthen its public-health defenses. Rising to the challenges of our time requires smart investments in an infrastructure that enables hospitals, public-health laboratories, medical professionals and public-health experts to constantly monitor our exposures to toxins and infections and that trains them how to respond in concert when threats emerge.

Investing in this infrastructure would help us prepare for a crisis and respond to public-health needs that have been neglected for far too long. We possess the know-how and plans to bolster our defenses. The only thing lacking has been the political will to act.

That appears to have changed. The renewed focus on public health since Sept. 11 has all the makings of a sentinel event for our public-health system. The important thing now is to take the necessary actions to protect public health. Health security is as basic a right of Americans as police and fire protection. And in times of crisis such as this, it is clear to all that health security is synonymous with national security.

Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami, was secretary for Health and Hu- man Services from 1993 to 2001.

  2001 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.                                     

 I thought you might like to read a second article from The Clarion-Ledger, dated June 25, 2001, entitled: Aviation board faces criticism, turbulence * Accusations of bias, ineffectiveness threaten future By James V. Walker, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer. <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = O />

The Agricultural Aviation Board of Mississippi consists of four owners of agricultural aviation, or crop dusting companies, and the head of the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry. Among other things, it is empowered to issue penalties to pilots who dump pesticides on people and houses.

The board has come under fire this month from both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the investigative arm of the state Legislature for what has been described as ineffective and inconsistent regulation.

In recent years, the board has slashed penalties by half or more in some cases without giving a reason, and in at least one case, allowed a board member to recommend a penalty for his own company when his son was the pilot in the complaint.

JoAnna Johnson was an eighth-grader in 1997, practicing cheerleading moves in her front yard when a plane spraying for boll weevils passed over her house, dousing her with pesticide.

She and a friend who was nearby spent the next 24 hours in the local hospital pale, sweating and with stomach cramps, she said. Since the incident, JoAnna, now 17, has had severe migraines, although doctors can't say for certain the two are connected.

When the Agricultural Aviation Board reviewed the case in April 1997, it issued a fine of $125. The same day, the board issued three fines totaling $7,000 to another pilot who contaminated a catfish pond.

"Does that mean these kids are worth (about) $60 each?" said Sandra Johnson, JoAnna's mother.

The pilot who sprayed JoAnna and her friend worked for Boyle Flying Service, owned by Bern Prewitt. Prewitt, then a member of the Agricultural Aviation Board, has since become its chairman.

Prewitt said he did not cast a vote in the case.

"That's like the fox guarding the henhouse," Sandra Johnson said. "There has to be a better way to regulate what's going on with these folks."

But Prewitt argues that no one understands the technical details of the industry better than the operators of the planes.

"We understand how our equipment operates and how to determine when somebody is at fault," Prewitt said.

Inconsistent fines

The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly chastised the board for handing down wildly inconsistent penalties that are too low to discourage future carelessness.

"AAB correspondence to the respondent typically uses the term '...after careful consideration...' In some of the drift cases reviewed by EPA this statement would not apply," regulators told the board in 1998.

In January 2000, EPA noted some of the problems with the board's fines were caused by "simple arithmetic errors." In a letter to then-Bureau of Plant Industry head Robert McCarty, federal regulators said that problem had been solved because "a calculator is now being used to double check the math."

EPA is threatening to take away the board's authority to enforce federal laws and a recent report to the Legislature recommends disbanding the board when its charter comes up for renewal in 2004.

"I don't think they're going to stop until they have our head on a post," said board member Rudy Holcomb. "We've done everything EPA has asked us to do, and it seems like the harder we try, the worse we get."

The board's penalties are not abnormally low compared to neighboring states. The Louisiana Agriculture Department handed out two fines last year for pesticide drift, both for $500. The fines levied in Tennessee last year ranged from notices of warning to $750.

Last year, the Agricultural Aviation Board of Mississippi levied six fines with an average fine of $947. The board also dismissed four cases and issued one warning notice.

But critics say the fines are based more on politics and self-interest than the best interests of the public.

The majority of states give authority over pesticide regulations to their agriculture departments, an option the state Legislative Committee for Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review recommended to the Legislature.

"I disagree with that," Holcomb said. "I think we do an adequate job of policing ourselves."

When a case arose last year involving Holcomb Aerial Service, owned by board member Rudy Holcomb, he participated in the discussion and voted on the penalty, even though the pilot was his own son.

In that case, 18 residents complained that Holcomb's son, Karl, harmed their flower beds by dumping pesticide on them. Holcomb's vote was averaged in with those of other board members, for a total fine of $875, which Holcomb paid.

It is not known what penalty Holcomb recommended, since only the final average penalty is kept on record, not the individual penalty sheets filled out by each board member.

Holcomb said his casting a vote in the case was "an honest mistake." He said he did not want to bias other board members by recusing himself, which would make it obvious that the case involved his company.

Complaints are generally investigated by the Bureau of Plant Industry and then presented to the board for action with no names or identifying information attached to eliminate the possibility of bias.

Holcomb said he had arranged with the board's secretary to turn in his penalty sheet but have it left out when she computed the final average, but somehow it got averaged in anyway.

"When somebody dug around and found out about it, it became a big deal," he said. "I screwed up, and I feel bad about it."

Betty Petty, a community activist in Indianola, has said the board's conflicts of interest have left them out of touch with the damage being caused in many poor, black communities near the fields.

"A lot of the rules are being violated, and if everyone was held accountable, we would not be having the problems we are having," Petty said.

She has called for a complete halt to the spraying near residential areas, which often lie only yards away from row crops in the Delta. But almost any change would be an improvement, she said.

"I think there could be some positive change if EPA or whoever steps in is accountable to the best interests of the community," Petty said.

Fines slashed

Cases that come before the Agricultural Aviation Board of Mississippi are rated on a penalty matrix, with five categories being scored from one to four. The categories include human harm, environmental harm and culpability. The total score on the matrix determines a range for the penalty, a system designed to make penalties more consistent.

But though the ratings go up to 20 and fines can range up to $25,000, The highest fine issued in the past five years is $2,200. Any case that scores a nine or higher out of 20 on the matrix has a minimum penalty of $2,500.

In 1997, three cases against Leist Air Service with a total penalty of $7,000 were reduced after the fact by almost 54 percent. A $650 fine for pesticide drift that led to a fish kill that same year was later reduced to $300, with the following explanation given: "it could not be determined if the fish were killed by the material applied...or whether it was an act of God."

Another operator was fined $1,540, with the fine later reduced to $500.

"EPA finds a reduction of this magnitude baseless and arbitrary," a 1998 review stated.

Since then, the board has reduced or dismissed several other penalties in what are called informal settlement conferences.

Prewitt said the ability to mitigate fines is important because, since the cases are presented without knowledge of the parties involved, the defendants must be allowed to present additional evidence after the initial determination.

He added the amount of the fine issued is not the most important part of the penalty. For operators who are continually cited, insurance rates go up and eventually insurance carriers will drop the companies, he said.

In another case, the EPA noted that gravity matrix values of 0, 2, 3, 0 and 1 were added by a board member for a total of 4, instead of the correct total of 6.

Edwin Dyess, the head of the state Bureau of Plant Industry, is the only member of the board who does not own a crop dusting company. While he would not criticize the board's performance, he said he often disagrees with the other members on fines for drifting pesticide.

"My assessments are usually higher than theirs," Dyess said.

When Gov. Ronnie Musgrove got a letter from EPA last week about the agency's intent to remove the board's authority over federal pesticide rules, he responded by asking DEQ Pollution Control Director Phil Bass to look into the situation and report back.

"I hope the state will stand by us," Prewitt said.

Bass, in turn, says that whether or not the board continues to exist in its current form, one goal of negotiations with EPA will be to keep federal regulators from intervening in Mississippi the way they did earlier in the decade to enforce the Clean Water Act.

One possibility would be to hand the board's duties over to the Bureau of Plant Industry, he said. The bureau already regulates hormone-included pesticides and those applied by land, and nearly every other state delegates pesticide enforcement to their agriculture department.

The report by the Legislature's Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee issued June 11 offered similar advice. Dyess said his agency could do the job by hiring one additional person who would handle testing and licensing the pilots.

While Dyess said he wasn't interested in muscling into the board's turf, he noted it wouldn't be much of a change since the bureau already takes and investigates the complaints.

"We do all the work relative to that now, except issuing the fines," he said.

The state has 90 days from May 31 to respond to EPA's ultimatum. Musgrove can request a hearing or plan to meet with federal regulators and devise a mutually agreeable solution. Bass said officials will be using the 90-day window to work on a plan that will keep enforcement on the state level.

The final settlement that is reached may be affected by whom President Bush nominates to head EPA Region IV, which includes Mississippi. The office is currently headed by Stan Meiburg, a Clinton-era official. One of the candidates for the post is Jimmy Palmer, former head of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Neither EPA officials nor members of the Agriculture Aviation Board would speculate about how such an appointment might affect negotiations.

"What needs to happen is a plan that will let EPA stay in Atlanta and allow Mississippians to regulate Mississippi," Bass said.

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Well "Aerial Applicators of Crop Protection Products", throughout my entire 35 year career as a pest control operator, I have watched the "good old boys regulate" themselves.  No one from my own State ever inspected the many hundreds of thousands of POISON applications my own company made.  Plumbers, electricians and carpenters have ALL of their work inspected before people are allowed to come in contact with their work - yet the the POISON applicator's work occasionally may be "inspected" (long after) someone sickens and/or dies. I would like to state that with attitudes like yours, we do not have to worry about "terrorists" spraying us with dangerous POISONS, you boys seem to have that area "covered", at least in Mississippi!

Respectfully,  Stephen L. Tvedten 

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