Pesticide Drift and Real-Life Harms
By Genna Reed
Pesticide drift is a common occurrence and is the simple result of wind carrying airborne chemicals onto unintended areas, like a neighbor’s farm. The impacts of drift can be extremely profound.
Indiana Public Media dove into the issue in a three-part report (Part I, Part II, Part III) on the risks involved with drift including financial harm from crop yield loss, health impacts associated with pesticide drift exposure and how the pipeline of genetically engineered crops able to withstand spraying with volatile herbicides (like 2,4-D and dicamba) will only worsen the drift problem.
Some of the highlights— and by highlights I mean frightening red flags—from the series are:
- An incident involving glyphosate (Roundup) drift from an adjacent field cost one Indiana farmer and his buyer, Red Gold Inc. (the largest privately held U.S. canned tomato processing company) over $45,000.
- According to the Office of the Indiana State Chemist, there were 97 cases in which pesticide applicators violated anti-drift laws from 2010 to 2012.
- Drift violations are only penalized with a fine about 16 percent of the time and fines are usually under $500.
- Preventative measures for pesticide drift may be listed on each pesticide label, but they don’t follow any standards, making them complicated and inconsistent. Efforts to standardize the labeling system have not yet been approved due to “political reasons.”
- Three quarters of farm violations from 2010-2013 involved drift but that number is a conservative estimate since many farmers don’t ever report their cases.
- Monsanto’s dicamba formulation that will be used with its GE dicamba-tolerant soy and cotton will continue to drift and additional claims and losses will “skyrocket.”
- One farmer, Larry Edwards, was exposed to fungicide when a crop duster flew over his home. The fungicide led to long-term damage to his larynx, which affected his breathing short-term and permanently altered his voice.
This is just one state’s story about pesticide drift and there are many other others to tell across the country. USDA’s pipeline of genetically engineered crops continues to hasten and more herbicide-tolerant crops are being approved left and right. Without stricter controls over pesticide use, some farmers will become more complacent with their applications on crops, and nearby non-tolerant crops will pay the price.
For more information on how GE crops and their associated chemical use hurts farmers, consumers and the environment, read our report- Superweeds: How Biotech Crops Bolster the Pesticide Industry. And leave a comment if you know of a farmer who would be interested in telling her/his story about how pesticide drift has impacted them.