Gilbert Orchards Inc. of Yakima, WA, faces $105,000 in fines for exposing workers to toxic pesticides while trying to kill gophers.
The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) issued 12 serious (some also categorized as repeat) health violations to Gilbert related to pesticides.
L&I investigated after receiving information that employees were hand-applying a pesticide, Fumitoxin, to kill gophers. The employees didn’t have respirators and hadn’t received training.
When mixed with water, Fumitoxin releases phosphine gas which is highly toxic and can be deadly.
Employers who apply restricted-use pesticides must provide the proper respirators and fit-test them. The employer also must monitor workers during pesticide use.
The inspection found employees were applying the pellets by hand, sprinkling them into gopher holes and adding water to activate the poison, while wearing the wrong type of respiratory protection.
Gilbert was fined $14,000 each for three repeat-serious violations. The company was cited in July 2014 for not developing a specific respiratory protection program or fit-testing respirators.
The orchard was also fined $7,000 each for nine serious violations related to respirator requirements and hazardous chemicals.
In addition, Gilbert was cited for three general violations: lack of hand-washing and toilet facilities, recordkeeping violations, and not providing medical evaluations for employees required to wear respirators. The general violations don’t carry fines.
Sean Gilbert, the company’s general manager, told the Yakima Herald that the fines stem from a disproportionate emphasis by the department on a minor issue.
“One of the most frustrating things about this is we rarely use Fumitoxin,” Gilbert said. “It’s not an important part of our operation.”
Gilbert said no employees had suffered injury or illness after using the pesticide.