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TDA on Pesticides: Relax and Enjoy It Families with sensitive health conditions have the right under state law to be pre-notified of aerial pesticide applications in nearby fields, but the Texas Department of Agriculture bureaucrat who approved Linda Burchett’s request on August 5 took the trouble to cast aspersions on the diagnoses of two physicians who found evidence of pesticide contamination in Burchett’s two daughters. Critics of pesticide policy under Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry were not surprised at this example of the TDA’s resistance to anything that might inconvenience a pesticide applicatoreven something as minor as picking up the phone to let a family clear out before a neighbor’s field was doused with dangerous chemicals. Donnie Dippel, deputy assistant commissioner of the pesticide programs division, wrote the Big Spring family that although Dr. Michael Samuels, a Dallas osteopath, found metabolites of two pesticides in the girls’ blood samples, including 0.4 nanograms per milliliter of oxychlordane in one girl and 1.6 ng/ml and 0.3 ng/ml, respectively, of DDE, a breakdown product of DDT, those metabolites were at “very low levels.” He also conceded that a brain scan conducted by Dr. Theodore Simon, an M.D. and brain scan specialist,found a pattern consistent with that seen in neurotoxic patients. “Based on our scientific review, the low levels of the two organochlorine metabolites detected in the blood samples of Levi and TJ [the girls] are comparable to those found among the healthy general population elsewhere in the country,” Dippel wrote. “Our evaluation does not indicate that the concentrations of oxychlordane and DDE detected in the blood samples exceed safe levels; these levels are not considered to cause any significant adverse health effect in humans.” After further discourse on the complexity of the causes and diagnoses of multiple chemical sensitivity, Dippel concluded, “Under the circumstances, before we can agree to a continued prior notification approval, we suggest that the individuals be further examined by a recognized immunologist/allergist and neurologist to certify existing chemical sensitivity/allergy with immune dysfunction or existing neurologic syndrome that may have been caused by a chemical insult.” Samuels, who specializes in treating chemically sensitive patients,, explained to the bureaucrat in a letter dated August 11 that the fact that, in the TDA’s view, the children only had “acceptable” levels does not mean additional microdoses are not harmful to them. He also noted that most of the environmental chemicals were fat soluble, so “any level found in the blood could be considerably higher in the storage areas” and “the fact that they are there in most of the population does not mean they are not harmful, it could quite possibly mean that we are not handling the 21st-century problems of ‘better living through chemistry’…” Burchett, who applied for the notification immediately after moving to Big Spring from Central Texas two months ago, said at first the inspector in the TDA’s Lubbock office was unfamiliar with the pesticide notice requirements and said they had never had an application. After she got him to look up the rule, the application was processed but she said the agency appeared to be making it unnecessarily difficult for her to qualify for simple notification of aerial sprayingand then officials made it clear that the approval was only through December, when they expected additional documentation before they would consider authorizing further notification. “I’m really. upset,” Burchett said. “I’m dealing with children here and all I’m asking for is a phone call, but they basically told me I need to go to another doctor.” Burchett said she believes the TDA toxicologist did not understand the doctors’ reports, but she said she will send more documentation from other physicians if the TDA demands it. When they are eXposed to chemicals, Burchett said, the girls, aged 12 and 14 years, have breathing difficulties similar to an asthma attack along with rashes all over their bodies and headaches. The 24-hours’ notice allows her to remove them to her inlaws’ home in Big Spring, farther removed from the cotton fields. “I guess what upsets me so much is that I’m not asking for money, I’m not trying to stop the spraying or even to restrict the spraying, although I wish I could. But I’m just asking them to pick up the phone so my girls and my family don’t have to be subjected to it. How hard is it to pick up the phone?” In a telephone interview, Dippell said the TDA had received new instructions from the EPA recognizing the sort of brain scan diagnoses used in the Burchetts’ case. He denied the TDA was trying to place hurdles in the way of notification. But the reaction to the Burchetts’ request feeds the general cynicism that consumer advocates feel about Perry’s stance on environmental protection. “Over the course of Perry’s administration I’ve had several calls from angry people caught in [pesticide] drift,” said Sue Pittman, coordinator of the Chemical Connection, a network of chemically sensitive Texans, based in Austin. “Since Perry has been in, applicators seem to think they can do anything they want.” Rebecca Harrington, state director of the United Farm Workers, said the door that was open during the Hightower Administration is slammed shut nowadays. “In the Valley we’ve seen they don’t do as much work to make sure the pesticide right-toknow law is enforced,” she said. When the union looked at the department’s pesticide enforcement file, she said, “It was totally unorganized, reports were not completed and there was very little followup.” She said the union was concentrating its efforts on organizing farmworkers rather than wasting time with the TDA. Reggie James of Consumers Union workpd closely with. Hightower’s TDA on pesticide rules and served on the department’s organic certification advisory committee until Perry took over and replaced him. While Hightower’s staff gave James free access to information on pesticide registration exemptions for research he was doing, he had to file Open Records requests and wrangle for information after Perry took over. James finally had to abandon the project, but the U.S. Government Accounting Office conducted a similar study nationwide and found abuses in the exemption program. John M. Gonzalez, chairman of the Texas Structural Pest Control Board, also received an admonition from a Perry underling when Gonzalez, in remarks published in the Austin American-Statesman September 26, 1993, said that applicators rely on manufacturers’ for their advertising, which sometimes contains false claims that pesticides are “safe for pets and children.” That prompted a ballistic response from Steve Bearden, Perry’s assistant commissioner for pesticide programs, who in a letter said Gonzalez improperly accused manufacturers of wrongdoing without first notifying the TDA, which is responsible for enforcing labelling regulations. He also stated that there is no data to prove Gonzalez’s claim that “all pesticides are harmful to children and pets even if correctly applied.” Bearden wrote, “I won’t deny that there is some risk involved, especially if the chemicals are misapplied, but the testing and scrutiny required by the product registration process and proper application minimize that risk.” Bearden also criticized Gonzalez’s suggestion that consumers insist on integrated pest management, which minimizes the use of toxic chemicals in controlling pests. Avoidance of pesticides could put consumers at risk, particularly when it comes to hantavirus-carrying rodents, Bearden said. He also termed “absurd” Gonzalez’s statement that “many ‘household’ pesticides are more toxic and dangerous than those that the professionals use” although he agreed with Gonzalez that the EPA does not approve chemicals. “To sum up my concerns, I recommend that you decide whether or not you support the judicious use of pesticides,” Bearden wrote. “You also need to heighten your un 6 SEPTEMBER 30, 1994