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California Spraying Company Found Liable for Pesticide Drifts

A Northern California pesticide spraying company was negligent on at least five occasions its helicopter pilots allowed the toxic chemicals to drift onto neighboring orchards, children playing soccer and a woman standing in her backyard, a judge ruled this week.

Alpine Helicopter Service, Inc. violated the law when it carelessly released the harmful chemicals on at least five occasions between 2014 and 2020, endangering the public’s health and safety, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Barbara Kronlund ruled.

“Defendants have had the proper training to apply aerial pesticides, yet repeatedly acted irresponsibly in applying the harmful substances, despite knowing the law, rules, risks and established protocols,” Kronlund wrote.

Tuesday’s found Lodi-based Alpine, its owner, Joel Dozhier, and three of its employee pilots liable. Phone messages left by The Associated Press at the company’s voicemail were not immediately returned.

Pesticide drift is prohibited under Food and Agricultural Code. Civil penalties and a permanent injunction against the defendants will be determined during the second phase of the trial, Kronlund said.

The California Department of Justice and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and San Joaquin County officials filed two lawsuits against the company, Dozhier and three employees. The suits were later consolidated into one case that included five pesticide drift incidents, including one in 2014 when a pesticide drift in San Joaquin County’s Boulding Island caused at least five people to report health problems and led to substantial crop losses.

In 2017, the company’s toxic chemicals landed on a special education school in Lodi. Turner Academy staff discovered corrosive pesticides on school buildings, grass fields, playground equipment, picnic benches and sidewalks.

In 2019, pesticides being sprayed by a company’s pilot on a pumpkin field drifted onto children playing soccer at a sports complex in Stockton. Another pesticide drift happened on the same site days later.

A year later, pesticides from an aerial application drifted onto a woman standing in her backyard in Isleton in Sacramento County.

“We have a duty to hold accountable those who act with reckless disregard for the safety and health of our community,” said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar.

“Responsible applications of pesticides are paramount to protecting our environment while sustaining a vibrant agricultural economy,” he added.

This article was first published in Insurance Journal.

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