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Investigating human exposure

Moorhead, Minn. — Minnesota law says it's illegal to apply a pesticide to a person by direct spray or overspray, commonly called drift.

Department of Agriculture Environmental Response and Enforcement Manager Paul Liemandt says pesticide exposure is not easy to identify. But he says pesticide residue on clothing and medical symptoms are two key factors.

Both appear to be evident in the case of elementary school children in Detroit Lakes. In April 2000, a third grade gym class enjoyed a spring day outside. When they returned to the classroom, students complained about itchy skin, and a rash. School officials learned a city park across the street had just been sprayed with the common herbicide, 2,4-D. They complained to the city, and a Department of Agriculture investigator was notified.

The investigation found that the 2,4-D was mixed in stronger concentration than allowed by the label. The investigator also noted the wind was blowing toward the school when the park was sprayed.

The fence around the school tested positive for 2,4-D. Residue from a different herbicide, Dicamba, was found on a child's shirt and shorts. The Ag Department investigator did not follow up to see where in the area, Dicamba may have been used. He concluded only there had been no human exposure to 2,4-D.

At least one student was treated by a doctor. Twila Schmitz says her son had a rash over much of his body. Schmitz says the doctor concluded her son had a severe reaction to something, but the doctor could not link the rash to pesticide exposure.

Schmitz says when the Ag Department investigator came to her house, he told her not to worry, the pesticide was perfectly safe. She says she was worried so she called the pesticide manufacturer. Schmitz says the company representative told her the pesticide was highly toxic, and her son should see a doctor.

Environmental Response and Enforcement Manager Paul Liemandt says the investigator was unclear if the child who sought medical treatment had a rash before or after the alleged pesticide exposure.

Only one child's clothing was tested, even though a school secretary said several children reported itchy skin and a rash that day.

Paul Liemandt says he's satisfied the investigation was aggressive and complete. The city was fined $500 for allowing a pesticide to drift beyond the target area.

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