Farmworkers complain of illness after possible pesticide exposure south of Bakersfield

Emergency workers are on scene of a reported pesticide exposure on Copus Road south of Bakersfield, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo/Steve Mills)

At least a dozen farmworkers became ill Friday morning after potentially being exposed to a pesticide.

The Kern County Fire Department received the report around 8 in the morning and responded to the scene on Copus Road.

An employee of the farm said the farmworkers were harvesting cabbage at Dan Andrews Farms.

Capt. Jason Knaggs of the Kern County Fire Department said not all workers reported having symptoms. Those who did said they experienced vomiting and nausea, with one person fainting.

Knaggs said everyone 12 people reported being exposed and were decontaminated on scene, a rinse-down he called a "mass decon."

He said a pesticide called Vulcan was applied last night at an adjacent field and there was “probably some residual in the field where the employees showed up to work this morning.”

Investigators said they are looking to see if that was the cause of the odor and sudden sickness.

Multiple agencies responded to the scene including the Kern County Department of Agriculture, Kern County Public Health, HAZMAT, CHP and Hall Ambulance.

Lanette Bankston, deputy director for the Kern County Department of Agriculture, said so far two people went to the hospital. One person was taken by ambulance and the other went on their own.

Kern County Public Health Department spokeswoman, Michelle Corson, said more people may have been exposed. Corson said there were originally over 50 people working on the farm, but most left before first responders arrived.

"We don't know if this was inhalation, if it was dermal exposure, it's likely it was inhalation but we can't confirm anything at this time."

Public Health is urging anyone who left the scene to get medical attention immediately.

"Don't wait, particularly if you're suffering from any symptoms," she said.

The Kern County Department of Agriculture said they will be investigating pesticide laws and regulations to make sure the pesticide was applied correctly.

Bankston said Vulcan was applied to a citrus field close to the cabbage farm, but at this time she can not confirm if that is where the odor came from.

"During this investigation we found a second application that was within a half mile also of the cabbage," she said. "So now that complicates this investigation."

Bankston said on top of the Vulcan that was used on a nearby citrus field, investigators discovered pesticides called Reaper and Sniper were used on a melon field that is also close to where the workers got sick.

She said the pesticides were applied Thursday night, and they are looking to see if it was done correctly. If not, they will discuss fines and penalties.

"From what we see, the pesticides that were applied in the area, the distances that we saw on the label so far do meet requirements, but again circumstances out there could have shifted and moved the product further than normal as far as the odor."

Bankston said wind could be a possible answer for the drift.

Investigators said they will try to track down everyone who was working in the cabbage field so they can see if they had symptoms and ask what they saw and smelt.

"We collect clothing samples and can test them to see if you actually got it on yourself," Bankston said. "We're trying to determine, was it the product that moved off sight or was it just the odor complaint."

This investigation is still ongoing. Check back for updates.

"We will send the investigation to the Department of Pesticide Regulations and they will further look at the pesticide product and see if they need to be reevaluated," Bankston said.

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