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This is a story of a trusting consumer, Brenda Jones, who explains that she hired a lawn care service, TRUGREEN ChemLawn, only to find that the pesticides being used were poisonous. The commonly used weed killer, atrazine, and synthetic pyrethroid bug-killer, bifenthrin, applied to her property resulted in the acute poisoning of Ms. Jones and her two children, ages eight and four. After trying for nearly one-year since the incident to recover from the exposure and continuing symptoms, and having received no assistance from the company and state regulators, Ms. Jones says that it is urgent for the public to be aware of her story before more people are poisoned.

“My New Year’s wish,” says Ms. Jones, “is that our county and state regulators wake up to the devastating effect that these toxic chemicals can have on people’s lives.” If the public were not led to believe that these pesticides were safe, as I was,” she argues, “then perhaps more people would push for laws to protect us from the unnecessary use of these chemicals.” Ms. Jones says she feels misled by the company about the hazards of common lawn chemicals and the failure of regulators to protect her family and the public.

The pesticides that poisoned Ms. Jones include the herbicide atrazine and the insecticide bifenthrin. Atrazine, a triazine herbicide, has emerged as one of the most widely used and controversial weed-killers on the market today, manufactured by a number of chemicals including Dow AgroSciences. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), atrazine is known to cause acute effects ranging from fatigue, dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting to eye, skin and respiratory irritation, shortness of breath, and asthma. Numerous studies link the herbicide to prostrate, ovarian, breast and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancers. Synthetic pyrethroids, like bifenthrin, have similar effects including cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pain, and is commonly known to create perpetual heightened sensitivity to chemicals even in low volumes.

Ms. Jones describes the incident as typical of lawn care applications in her area and recalls the applicator telling her that the chemicals are so safe that he does not need to wear a mask. Yet as soon as the spraying began, some 15 feet from where she stood, she immediately felt a burning in her chest and throat, developed an incessant cough, and ran into the house. That evening her children began complaining of dizziness and stomach aches, and her dog was wheezing and vomiting.

“The pesticide applicators demonstrate repeatedly that they do not understand the dangers associated with these poisons, or just don’t care how they are harming others,” says Ms. Jones. “Since I was poisoned, I’ve witnessed numerous applicators use poisons two feet from where children are playing, like it’s nothing.”

Ms. Jones was diagnosed by her doctor with pesticide-poisoning and has spent much of the last year in doctor’s offices. Her distinguished 15-year career, that has included employment at hospitals like Johns Hopkins Medical Center and Stanford University, has come to an abrupt end. Upon going to a lung specialist for persistent shortness of breath and dizziness, she was told that the damage was irreversible and that her airway was now reactive – a condition with no real treatment except the absence of chemicals in her environment.

Her eight-year old son Jeffrey has been permanently removed from his school due to reactions he gets to pesticide treatments nearby or on the school premises. When Ms. Jones asked the applicator near the school not to spray during school hours, he replied that weed killers and pesticides are registered with the EPA, are safe to use, and will not hurt children.

"Atrazine poses a serious cancer risk for millions of Americans and exposure to synthetic pyrethroids is an increasing health problem," says Jay Feldman, Director of Beyond Pesticides in Washington, D.C. “People, including applicators, neglect how toxic these bug and weed killers are only to find themselves caught in a web of illness. Companies, federal and state regulators downplay the hazards of commonly used pesticides.”

After three months of leaving messages and trying to figure out how to notify the state of her poisoning, she finally got in touch with the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Entomology and Pest Control. The agency investigated her claim by contacting the lawn care company. State inspector Mark Beynon determined that too much time had elapsed to do an on-site inspection or soil sample. Her case has recently been reopened by his superior.

“What happened to Brenda and her family unfortunately is not unique,” says Beyond Pesticides Projects Director, Shawnee Hoover. “We support Ms. Jones in her efforts to warn the public about the hazards of these pesticides. If the government won’t do it – then the people have to.”

According to Alan Becker of Florida’s Department of Health, all physicians in Florida are supposed to report pesticide-poisoning incidents to the department. Becker confirms that compliance with the mandatory requirement is very low. Pesticide poisonings are frequently misdiagnosed or go unrecognized, he says. The federal government does not have a system to track pesticide poisoning, having shut down the Pesticide Incident Monitoring System (PIMS) in 1981.

“The assault on Ms. Jones and her family will continue as long as lawn care pesticides are allowed to be widely and freely used. There are so many non-toxic alternatives that don’t poison people and the environment,” says Jay Feldman, Director of Beyond Pesticides. “Lawn care pesticide use should stop.”

“We are loving parents and would never consent to have our children exposed to any chemical that would harm them,” Ms. Jones says. “If only I had known.”

VIEW The Timeline of Ms Jones's Story



"Serious problems cannot be dealt with at the level of thinking that created them."
 Albert Einstein
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