It may be six months before it will be known if any charges will be filed against the company and crop duster pilot responsible for spraying farmworkers with agriculture chemicals the night of Dec. 21.
According to state law, the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) has six months to investigate the incident, which resulted in 10 farmworkers being transported to the hospital after a crop duster sprayed them with agchemicals while they were working in a field west of Avenue G and County 12th Street.
If the investigation reveals any violation of the law, “appropriate regulatory actions will be taken according to our statute and rule penalty authorities,” said Jack Peterson, AZDA associate director of the environmental services division.
Peterson declined to identify the pilot of the crop duster involved, or to release the name of the company employing the pilot.
“This is an ongoing investigation, and we do not release information until the investigation is complete,” he said.
AZDA is in the process of identifying all crop duster pilots who were applying aerial pesticide applications in the area at the time, as well as any ground-based applications which may have been made.
“We must look into all applications to determine if any of them could be involved, so this would include both aerial and ground applications,” Peterson said. “This could include applications that occurred prior to the work crew entering the field.”
Investigators are also working to identify the pesticide the farmworkers were sprayed with.
“Once we are confident in what pesticide was sprayed, we will carefully review this to ensure the application was made according to the requirements specified on the label,” Peterson said. “Everyone is cooperating fully as everyone wants to avoid things like this ever occurring. They want to know if anything was done incorrectly to ensure it doesn't happen again.”
Emergency personnel with Rural/Metro responded to the scene of the incident at about 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21. They found the crop duster had passed over two field worker buses, spraying about 40 farmworkers with agchemicals.
Many of the farmworkers were complaining of irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and skin after being exposed to the agchemicals. Because of the large number of patients involved, Rural/Metro was assisted by the Yuma Fire Department and the Somerton/Cocopah Fire Department.
Emergency personnel with Rural/Metro and YFD set up a portable decontamination zone at the site while Yuma County Sheriff's deputies cordoned off the area.
The process of decontaminating each farmworker involved stripping them down and then rinsing them off with a fire hose. The situation was made even more unpleasant because the temperature was in the mid-50s.
After initial decontamination, at least 10 farmworkers were sent to Yuma Regional Medical Center for additional treatment. Nine of the workers were released later that night after further decontamination and evaluation in the Emergency Department. One person was admitted overnight and released the next morning. None of the injuries were critical.