Equipment malfunction blamed when farm chemicals end up on a home

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A plugged-up nozzle appears to be the reason a Bakersfield couple was exposed to farm chemicals. Kim and George Dunn were outside their home Friday morning, when they were covered with the material. They worry about the effects, and what could happen in the future.

"They were crop-dusting right above us, and we looked around and noticed that we were getting covered with it," Kim Dunn said. "It was covering the house, our dogs, us."

Dunn said she and her husband quickly noticed something was wrong.

"My throat started burning, my tongue started burning really bad, he started getting a headache," Dunn said. She was also very worried about effects on their animals, especially a miniature horse, "Bonita."

"That little horse is 35 years old," Dunn said. About an hour after being sprayed, the couple was out washing down the small horse in their back yard.

Fire crews and an ambulance were called out. The Dunns were instructed to shower and change clothes as a precaution for the exposure. Ambulance crews checked them, but the couple didn't need medical attention.

Dots of a white powder-like material hit the Dunns, their cars, and could be seen on the patio of their home on South "H" Street, south of Houghton Road. It happened at about 11:00 a.m.

The plane was operated by Old River Crop Dusting, according to Kern County Agriculture Department assistant director Louie Cervantes. The plane was heading to a field when the problem happened.

"The nozzle system was shut off," Cervantes told Eyewitness News. "When making a turn, the nozzle malfunctioned." Cervantes said ag department officers immediately started an investigation, and they're still working on that.

Dunn said they were outside working on a new bird house for their doves, when the crop-duster flew over fairly low. They live on the east side of Houghton Road, the field being treated is quite a way west of Houghton.

"They have an onion field out there," Kern County Fire Battalion Chief Vern Brothers explained. "They were basically spraying that with organic chalk."

The ag deparment's Cervantes said the material is technically a pesticide, but it's listed with a very low hazard to humans. It's used to protect crops from sun damage, or sun burn.

The couple was told the onion grower is JSA Company, and they had a card from a spokesman. But, they were frustrated about a lack of information from the company.

"He said he was too busy," Kim Dunn complained. "That he would get here when he could."

Eyewitness News called JSA, but no one was available to answer questions. A spokeswoman at Old River Crop Dusting also said on Friday that no one could respond from that company.

At the county ag department, Cervantes said samples of the material had been taken from the couple's clothes and off some cars. They're deciding if that will be sent to a state lab for analysis.

Cervantes also said enforcement action may be pending. That could include fines or citations. Eyewitness News has learned Old River Crop Dusting was cited by state officials in 2009, and fined $350. It's not clear what that violation was.

The ag spokesman said in Friday's incident, only the Dunns were reported as being exposed to the chemical. He also said no one required medical attention. The area has scattered homes, and the fields to the west.

Kim Dunn is still concerned.

"They crop-dust a lot," Dunn said. "I hope they take better precautions, because next time it could be some type of fertilizer, and my animals are very important to me."