Lorna Canada said her two children, her husband and herself were ill for several days after an aerial applicator made repeated passes over her home while spraying an adjacent canola field on Aug. 17.
“The spray was so thick that you couldn’t even go outside without tasting it — it was nasty,” said Canada, who is a nurse and lives along Highway 450 just north of Lake Metigoshe.
Her youngest child, aged 11, vomited constantly for an entire day, and then suffered from severe diarrhea on the following two days, while her older child had a bout of diarrhea and nausea that lasted for five days, she said.
Neighbour Marie Denbow, who videotaped the crop duster flying over the cluster of three homes, said she is outraged by the incident.
“If I went over to their house and sprayed Warhawk all over their yard, children and pets, I’d go to jail,” said Denbow.
Anthony Raes, a farmer from Deloraine who rents the field, confirmed he hired an aerial applicator to spray a generic brand of chlorpyrifos on the canola field to control bertha armyworms. The active ingredient is an organophosphate that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, headache, blurred vision and other health issues.
But Raes said he gave residents advanced warning and told the applicator to stay away from the cluster of three homes near the highway.
“I did tell them to avoid that corner because there’s a few houses there. I left it up to them,” he said. “We just hired them to do the job.”
Steven Kiansky, of Altona-based Southeast Air Services, said he couldn’t confirm if one of his applicators sprayed the three homes, but said it’s sometimes necessary to fly over yard sites.
“I would take every precautionary measure to make sure spray doesn’t get in their yard,” said Kiansky.
Aerial applicators avoid spraying when the windspeed exceeds 15 kilometres per hour. But sometimes the weather, especially in hilly, bushy areas can change quickly, he said.
“Say you’re flying 50 to 60 miles to a field, it’s impossible for us to know, so we have to rely on the farmer to tell us that it’s good, it’s safe,” he said.
This is the first complaint about spray drift he’s had all year, he said, adding his company maps “sensitive” areas such as organic farms and yard sites as “no-fly zones.” Anyone can have their property put on the map by calling his company, he said.
“We mark those fields off on the map and we’ll never be back there for the rest of eternity,” said Kiansky. “We don’t need the trouble, nor do we need the work that badly.”
But area residents and local organic farmers are banding together to ensure their is no repeat of the incident and held a meeting on Aug. 28 at the Turtle Mountain Metis Local hall.
Among them was Elizabeth Lavallee, who has a 2.2-acre property filled with fruit trees and roaming cats a few miles away from the others.
She said pesticides applied to a canola field across the road drifted onto her property several times this summer, sickening her cats, killing dragonflies and bees, and leaving her with a sore throat, difficulty in breathing, and burning skin.
“I’m tired of some farmers putting people and the environment at risk to line their own pockets,” Lavallee wrote in an email.
“I’m not against spraying, I’m against getting sprayed.”
Dale Goethals, the owner of the canola crop across from Lavallee’s home, said he does his best to give residents advance warning, and doesn’t take a decision to spray lightly.
“Do they want us to just let the berthas come in and ruin a year’s worth of income?” he asked.
As for the complaints, he said “some people seem to get sick a lot easier than others.”
He also said he uses the more costly insecticide Coragen (that only kills pests which eat plants that have been sprayed) in order to avoid problems with local beekeepers and acreage owners.
The federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency has developed easy-to-use software called the Buffer Zone Calculator to assist crop dusters in preventing drift. But if there is a problem, the onus is on property owners to prove they’ve suffered health problems or damages, said David Neufeld, an organic farmer who lives in the Turtle Mountains and has studied regulations covering spray drift.
The best option is to be pro-active, said Neufeld, who spoke at the Aug. 28 meeting.
“It’s really important for us to confront people as its happening, including the farmer, and say, ‘Look, this is not reasonable, we’re neighbours, we’ve got to get along,’” he said.
Crop dusters are keen to do everything they can, said John Bagley, owner of Westman Aerial Spraying, adding his company constantly updates its list of “no-fly zones” and shares it with any spray company that asks for it.
Even if a spray plane flies over a yard, it doesn’t mean pesticide is actually being released and aerial sprayers also use a “suck-back valve” to prevent drips, he said.
Aerial applicators are required to stay 2,000 feet away from built-up areas, but there are no rules covering rural yard sites.
“That would cripple aviation,” said Bagley. “It would be like saying a truck can’t drive past somebody’s driveway.”