Group proposes legislation on aerial spraying of chemicals

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF

   A couple of years ago, Tracy McDaniel, 33, and her family purchased land and built a house on property bordering a Bowater pine plantation in Dunlap, Tenn., about three miles from their former home.
   For years, she and her family had ridden the mountain trails in Sequatchie County near Bowater on 4-wheelers. Now, she wonders whether those rides, coupled with the location of her new home, might have made her sick.
   "Around here, you don't go anywhere that's not close to their land or through their land," she said.
   A few months after the couple built their home, McDaniel said, "All the trees were cut behind our house. We didn't realize how close their land was to ours."
   Later, she learned that Bowater conducted annual sprayings of pesticides and fertilizers such as Velpar DF, Oust, and Sulfometuron methyl, near her home.
   "The first year I didn't realize what was going on. I thought they were just going over, checking their fields and stuff like that," she said.
   Then she began experiencing health problems.
   "They've been treating me for two years by a cardiologist. The doctor gave me an EKG and all kinds of heart tests and then he said, 'I just wonder if maybe it could be something with your lungs. Do you care if I get you a lung scan?'
   "He ordered it up and I took it and he said, 'I want to do it again, but I want to do a viral lung scan.' He did that and he said, 'I want you in here within the next few days. Your lungs are full of blood clots.'
   "Pulmonary emboli is what they call it," McDaniel said.
   "I went in (to the Critical Care Unit) and they put me on this drug that you can only take once in a lifetime, and that busted up the clots. I had an allergic reaction to it and I started bleeding out of my nose and mouth. It was terrible. Before I left (the hospital) they had to give me blood because it was so bad.
   "They said they had no idea how I got the clots. It just baffled the doctors. I don't smoke. I've never done anything," she said.
   "Since we moved out here, I've had shortness of breath and classic symptoms of respiratory problems. I just don't know anything else that it could possibly be.
   "People have been getting all kinds of things -- allergies, skin rashes. My husband has even had trouble breathing, and he's healthy as a horse."
   McDaniel is afraid that if she resumes her active lifestyle the blood clots in her lungs will come back.
   "I don't want to sell my house and move -- we just built it. But it's just been one headache right after another," she said.
   After her illness, McDaniel saw some information from the 29-year-old citizens' organizing group, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, or SOCM.
   "I gave them a call and they told me about other people with similar symptoms," she said. The majority of those believe they share health problems related to the aerial spraying of chemicals.
   "There's no telling how many people have been exposed," McDaniel said. "I don't even know a test to take to find out if I have anything to do with that, which I believe it is (related), but what I believe and what would legally go are two different things."
   SOCM was to hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. today at Legislative Plaza in Nashville to propose legislation which will enhance the state's ability to regulate the aerial spraying of chemicals.
   "I think they ought to at least not spray around people's houses and use alternative methods to spray when close to residential areas," McDaniel said. "With all that is going on in the world right now, we don't need to worry about getting sick in our own back yard."
   According to Mike Knapp of SOCM, herbicides and fertilizer pellets are sprayed in areas where clearcutting of hardwood forests is present.
   "They clearcut deciduous forests and then spray it with herbicide. That herbicide kills all of the competition that would subsequently come up after they plant pines. They plant pines then they spray it with fertilizer," he said.
   "In West Tennessee what they're spraying around cotton fields primarily is Malathion, which is a chemical to kill the boll weevil infestation in cotton. Then also they spray defoliant every year as part of the harvesting of cotton. It basically takes off all the leaves."
   Knapp said the defoliant is "very similar" to Agent Orange.
   In Tennessee, there is no set statewide standard pertaining to aerial spraying of chemicals, he said.
   "The actual rules within the Tennessee Code have nothing to say about where you can and can't spray. You're just supposed to follow the labels," he said. The only other requirements are that a chemical identification number be posted on the plane and that an application be submitted before spraying occurs, according to SOCM.
   "What we're trying to do is get them to have a set standard, buffer zones, that kind of stuff," to protect citizens who are chemically sensitive, Knapp said.
   SOCM's efforts to control the harmful effects of aerial spraying began in November 1999 when the group began receiving calls from concerned citizens in Middle and East Tennessee complaining of health problems following the aerial application of herbicides and fertilizers.
   Murray Hudson, former farmer and chair of SOCM's aerial spraying committee, said the state needs "buffer zones and other regulations to protect innocent people from sicknesses caused by chemicals drifting far beyond their intended target."
   The committee researched statutes across the country to determine which legislative components were best suited to adequately protect Tennessee citizens from aerial spraying and hopes to present legislation which would require:
   * Notification and posting prior to spraying;
   * Buffer zones and restrictions, including a no-spray buffer zone around buildings and waterways; wind limits and GPS-ready navigation devices on all planes, as well as alarms and security for grounded planes.
   * Registration of protected businesses such as organic farms and beekeeping. Prior to spraying, aviators would be required to consult the list to verify the locations of buffer zones where spraying is not allowed.
   * Permit and license requirements for commercial applications. Applicants would have to complete background checks and the permit approved before spraying begins. Permits and licenses would be non-transferable to prevent unregulated applicators from spraying. License and permit fees would be used to offset costs of implementing the new law.
   * County-level pesticide record keeping: Counties would be required to keep record of the type and amount of chemicals applied at the county level.
   * Enforcement: An administrative judge panel would rule on violations on the merits of each case and violation of buffer zones and other restrictions would result in hefty fines, removal of license and incarceration.
   * Medical attention: Persons sprayed with an aerial applicator would have the right to receive diagnosis and treatment of side effects from chemical poisoning at their local county health department.