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The "rape of St Lucia" is about to begin, with the construction of biohazard labs in a residential area!

Biohazard Action Alliance

*** Town humiliated in pesticide scare

01:28 AM ET 12/09/99

Town Humiliated in Pesticide Scare
 By CHRISTINE HANLEY= Associated Press Writer=

     EARLIMART, Calif. (AP) _ Sickened by a mysterious stench that
 wafted across this tiny community, two dozen people sat in a grassy
 field on a chilly evening and waited for emergency crews to decide
 what to do.
     At the time, no one knew what was causing their eyes to water,
 lungs to burn, stomachs to retch. Amid the chaos, as a precaution,
 a decontamination line was ordered.
     One by one, those sickened, most of them women, were sprayed
 with water by men wearing masks and green splash suits: the
 hazardous materials team.
     Lupe Baeza, a 56-year-old grandmother, was first.
     ``They said to take off all my clothes. I left my underwear on.
 I said, 'I'm not taking them off,''' she said, recalling how her
 protest was in vain, as a paramedic pulled them off. ``He said I
 had to.''
     Nearly a month later, Baeza and the others remain humiliated by
 the treatment, frightened by their exposure to what turned out to
 be a cancer-causing soil fumigant and saddled with thousands of
 dollars in medical bills they cannot afford.
     Tired of getting no answers, some residents on Wednesday gave a
 representative of the Board of Supervisors at least 183 complaints
 about illnesses believed to be related to their exposure on Nov.
     They are demanding a more organized evacuation system,
 reimbursement for ambulance and hospital expenses and, most
 importantly, stricter pesticide regulations and air monitoring
 standards. A meeting was planned today with the Tulare County
 Agriculture Commissioner.
     ``If something like this happened in Berkeley or Sacramento, to
 people who vote or ordinary middle-class citizens, legislators
 would be tripping over themselves to get something done about it,''
 said Dr. Marion Moses of the Pesticide Education Center in San
     Most of the 3,000 or so residents of Earlimart, about 70 miles
 south of Fresno, are Hispanic or Filipino. Some are transient.
 Nearly all earn their living picking grapes or pruning vines.
     Wilbur-Ellis Co. was applying a fumigant known by the trade name
 Sectagon 42 to a 75-acre potato field owned by Vignolo Farms when
 the smell drifted over the town that Saturday afternoon.
     Sectagon 42 contains metam sodium, which is on the state's list
 of cancer-causing pesticides.
     The compound is fast becoming an alternative to methyl bromide,
 a highly toxic fumigant prized by farmers but being phased out
 worldwide. From 1991 to 1998, use of metam sodium jumped from about
 5 million pounds statewide to more than 15 million pounds.
 Restrictions are tightest in a few counties where similar accidents
 were reported.
     County agriculture officials say it appears the company followed
 county regulations: meeting the per-acre ratio, posting warning
 signs and staying within a required 500-foot buffer zone.
     Still, the fumes escaped.
     ``Rotten eggs. Really rotten eggs,'' Lucy Huizar said of that
 first whiff.
     About 150 people were evacuated from their homes. Following
 sheriff's orders, Huizar, a single mom, took three of her kids to a
 middle school and waited with others on the football field. Because
 of the contamination potential, they were not allowed inside.
 Mothers cradled their infants. Some people vomited.
     Ambulance workers called for the decontamination line because
 they are not allowed to transport contaminated passengers.
     Humiliation followed.
     Though plastic tarps offered a partial shield, Huizar and the
 others said they were forced to strip down to nothing in an area
 within view of a crowd of at least 100 emergency personnel, TV
 crews and other spectators.
     ``It felt like we were raped,'' said Huizar, 42, reenacting how
 she was told to lift up her arms and turn in circles as she walked
 down the line.
     Firefighters and agriculture officials say the possible
 consequences outweighed privacy issues.
     ``I know some people were humiliated. But it's life or death
 sometimes,'' said Tulare County Fire Capt. Patricia Granillo.
 ``Prior to them being washed down, we didn't know what the chemical
 was. It was just standard operating procedure.''
     Hazardous materials crews are required to carry CD-Roms with
 pesticide information. Otherwise, they are instructed to contact
 local agriculture officials, who had reached the potato field and
 interviewed the applicator by the time decontamination began.
     Both groups should have been aware of Sectagon 42's contents,
 said Glenn Brank, spokesman for the state Department of Pesticide
     Huizar and the others were examined at various hospitals and
 sent home, told they were exposed to a gas that is nothing more
 than an irritant.
     Moses disputes that. She said even the fumes of metam sodium are
 a toxin capable of disrupting reproductive systems.
     The treatment didn't come cheap, either. Ambulance rides cost
 $885 for Huizar and each of her three kids. The doctor's advice
 cost nearly $200 apiece.
     The bills included this advice: ``Get rest, lots of fluids and
 avoid re-exposure.''

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