Santa Cruz County Agricultural Commissioner imposes biggest fine to date for pesticide exposure – Santa Cruz Sentinel
WATSONVILLE >> Los Amigos Harvesting, which had a worker accused of exposing nearby raspberry pickers to harmful pesticides around June 29, 2017, owes the county $ 56,000 – the biggest fine imposed by the county agricultural commissioner de Santa Cruz Juan Hidalgo during his 13 years of service.
A spokesperson for Los Amigos Harvesting said the company is requesting a hearing to review the commissioner’s findings in order to present information the company believes to be accurate.
The company, through its spokesperson, said it plans to challenge the county’s investigation.
Shortly after 9 a.m. on June 29, 2017 – the weather was overcast, but no wind – the county agriculture commissioner‘s office was notified of possible pesticide exposure near Wagner and East Lake avenues in Watsonville, according to investigation reports.
When county staff arrived, a witness said firefighters were spraying injured farm workers, according to investigation reports. According to investigation reports, 15 workers were ill as a result of exposure to pesticides: vomiting, dizziness, headache, difficulty breathing or high temperature. Workers also reported having a bad taste or dry mouth, and irritation of the throat, eyes and skin. Eight workers were taken to a hospital or clinic in South County.
The investigation ended last week and was announced on Friday. On the morning of June 29, 2017, an unlicensed contractor spraying legal pesticides failed to assess and inspect the site for the risks of exposing nearby farm workers, Hidalgo said.
The worker, an unlicensed contractor, “was negligent” in using a sprayer that dispersed a fine mist that spread over the nearby farm about 40 feet away, Hidalgo said.
“He could have waited,” Hidalgo said. “These field workers could be gone in 45 minutes. “
The sick workers were employed by FMG Farm Contractor Inc., based in Gonzales. They were working in a raspberry field operated by Coastal Berry – North, according to the investigation report.
Los Amigos Harvesting has 20 days to respond to the commissioner’s findings, which were released last week. He can appeal the order through the commissioner’s office.
The investigation concluded that there had been violations of the Food and Agricultural Code and Title 3 of the California Code of Regulations due to the failure to: carefully perform pest control or to operate a pest control business with a license, Hidalgo said.
The investigation, which conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed medical and regulatory records and environmental testing, also resulted in a penalty of $ 1,250 to FMG Farm Contractor Inc.
The fines are punitive and are intended to deter future violations, Hidalgo said.
The agricultural commissioner‘s office oversees approximately 300 producers in Santa Cruz County; about half work on berry farms, Hidalgo said. The others are a combination of leafy vegetable or Brussels sprout growers, nurseries or vineyards. Producers are spread across the county, Hidalgo said.
“We increased our reach after the survey to let producers know that they need to be aware of laws and regulations to protect their employees and their environment,” Hidalgo said. “They hear from us every year.