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Yakima Orchard Owner Fined $100,000 For Exposing Workers to Toxic Pesticide

chemical exposureA Yakima orchardist has been penalized with $105,000 in fines from the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) following multiple serious health violations related to chemical pesticides. L&I has cited Gilbert Orchards with 12 serious and repeat-serious health violations.

Read more here about the L&I workplace injury lawsuit.

Washington State began its investigations in March after L&I inspectors got information that employees were applying Fumitoxin – a pesticide used to kill gophers – by hand, and without using the required respirators or training.

Fumitoxin is a highly toxic and restricted-use pesticide containing aluminum phosphide, which reacts with water to release phosphine gas. The gas is toxic enough that it can even be deadly.

Employers using any restricted-use pesticides are required to make sure that workers receive proper training in the use of respirators and proper handling of hazardous chemicals. They must also be equipped with proper respirators, and fit-test to ensure a tight seal around the face. Employers are also required to post warning signs in areas where the chemical has been applied, and supervise workers during the application.

Yet despite these very clear guidelines, L&I inspectors notes that workers were handling the toxic pellets with their bare hands, sprinkling them into gopher holes and then adding water to activate the poison; moreover, the respiratory protection they were using was not adequate for aluminum phosphide gases.

Gilbert Orchards received fines of $14,000 each for 3 repeat-serious violations. Prior to the current violation, the employer received a citation in July 2014 for failing to implement a specific respiratory protection program or fit-test the respirators used by workers.

In addition to the 3 repeat serious violations, Gilbert Orchards employer was also fined the maximum penalty of $7,000 each for 9 serious violations connected to respirator requirements and hazardous chemicals.

Finally, L&I issued three citations to the employer for general violations related to a lack of hand-washing and toilet facilities, recordkeeping, and not providing medical evaluations for employees using respirators. General violations don’t typically carry a penalty.

Gilbert Orchards has the opportunity to appeal up until Sept. 8. Penalty money paid in connection with such citations is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, which is used to support injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

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Emery Reddy