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Aerial Spraying of Deadly Pesticides


Five-year-old Joshua Hanks suffered with asthma. Unfortunately, he lived next to a cotton field outside Friendship in Crockett County. After pesticides were dropped on that field by air July 29, 2002, Joshua stopped breathing. Paramedics took him to a hospital in Jackson, but by then, he was brain dead..

Tests were run and doctors asked Joshua’s mother why he has so many chemicals in his blood. The most prominent chemical was, according to the boy’s grandparents, the insecticide used in spraying cotton fields: malathion.

Although this is a worst case scenario, it is not the only death of an asthmatic child or elder with emphysema I have been told of in a six-mile radius of my house.

Scores of people have respiratory problems, including ”chemical pneumonia.” Sure, some of them have ”allergies.” They’re allergic to the poison sprayed around them. Respiratory therapists and doctors tell us they know at once when spraying starts because respiratory problems spike.

According to a 2004 University of Washington spray drift study: ”Even in calm weather, air application tends to drift off-target with potential exposure risks to humans.” The report goes on to discuss ”health impacts and risks to farm workers, their families, and nearby residential communities.”

”Of immediate concern is acute derma contact and inhalation exposure from OP (organophosphate) insecticides to children living in close proximity to agricultural operations,” the public health study reported. ”Children have a higher inhalation rate to body weight ratio than adults and may have comparatively immature detoxification and clearance systems and therefore are at higher risk than adults to adverse effects from airborne toxicants.”

In a recently released poll by the University of Tennessee, 92% of Tennesseans polled statewide wanted more protective laws regulating aerial spraying. Few people believe it is right or acceptable for poisonous spray drift to contaminate someone’s private property, crops, livestock, pets or family.

Ironically, the largest health insurer for rural Tennesseans, the Farm Bureau, is also the most vocal opponent to the Tennessee Aerial Spraying Protection Act of 2005.

Save Our Cumberland Mountains, a statewide grassroots organization of common people standing for their rights, has worked hard for four years with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, which regulates aerial spraying.

We are simply asking for protective laws such as buffer zones of 100 feet around homes and 300 feet around schools, hospitals, churches, etc. where pesticides cannot be sprayed from the air. This doesn’t keep the farmer from using his ground rig.

North Carolina has had buffer zones for more than 20 years, disallowing any chemical application within 100 feet of a house. It hasn’t hurt farmers there, and it won’t hurt farmers here. (I speak as a sixth-generation Tennessee farmer). Alabama and Louisiana also have buffer zones.

Our legislation, in both the Tennessee Senate and House, also asks for crop-dusters to fax a public service announcement (PSA) for radio or newspapers before they spray. They are already required to furnish when, where and what they’re spraying to the local sheriff by the morning before application.

We also want a registry for pesticide-sensitive people, including asthmatic children such as young Joshua Hanks. Aerial applicators would have to let these at-risk people know before they spray nearby. If he’d been warned to leave, maybe Joshua would still be with us.

MURRAY HUDSON is head of the aerial spraying committee for Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM). E-mail:










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