Wednesday, October 12, 2005

State Goes After Pesticide Applicators

IMMOKALEE, FL. -- Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer
Services Charles H. Bronson is taking legal action and levying fines
against a Plant City, Florida, based agriculture company for numerous
violations of state and federal pesticide laws, one farm where violations
were allegedly involved is in Immokalee.

Bronson has filed two Administrative Complaints against Ag-Mart Produce,
Inc., and four employees alleging 88 separate counts of pesticide use
violations on two different farms. The most serious counts involve
violations of "pre-harvest intervals" and "restricted entry intervals."
Pesticide labels state how soon after a pesticide application a crop can be
harvested as well as how soon it is safe for workers to enter a field.
Ag-Mart is accused of harvesting crops anywhere from one day to five days
after pesticide applications despite a seven-day waiting period indicated
on the label. The farms involved are located in Immokalee and Jennings,
Florida. Although the investigation found evidence of harvesting before
the waiting period expired, no illegal pesticide residues were identified
on food crops in routine sampling from these farms.

The Department launched an investigation in March 2005 in conjunction with
an investigation by the Collier County Health Department and the Florida
Department of Health into the cause of three cases of birth defects in
children born to mothers who worked for Ag-Mart. The Department has never
received an official complaint about pesticide violations in this case and
agencies learned of the birth defects in news reports. The investigation
into the birth defects is the responsibility of the Collier County Health
Department and the Florida Department of Health; the Florida Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services focuses on pesticide rules and
regulations. Bronson's Department uncovered extensive violations of
pesticide laws. However, the Department was unable to identify any
instances of illness resulting from any of the pesticide use violations.

The employees involved are licensed pesticide applicators employed by
Ag-Mart. They are Warrick Birdwell, Charles Lambert, Justin Oelmann and
Josh Cantu. Florida law says licensed applicators are responsible for the
pesticide use activities and actions of individuals under their

The investigation also uncovered violations of the Worker Protection
Standard which require pesticide applicators to wear certain protective
equipment. In one instance, a worker did not wear protective eyewear while
mixing an herbicide.

Bronson is seeking $111,200 in fines against Ag-Mart, Inc. The company has
21 days to request a hearing if it decides to contest the findings.

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