Lodi Aerial Applicator to Pay Fines, Get Increased Oversight for Pesticide-Drift Incidents
Secretary for Environmental Protection
Leia Bailey, Communications Director
(916) 445-3974 | Leia.Bailey@cdpr.ca.gov
SACRAMENTO - A Lodi-based aerial applicator responsible for numerous pesticide-drift incidents faces fines and tightened oversight under a recent court judgment.
San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Kronlund ordered Alpine Helicopter Service to pay more than $200,000 in fines, including $155,000 to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR); $12,500 to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District; $40,225 to the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office; and $10,225 to the California Attorney General’s Office.
"[Alpine] failed to exercise the due care required of aerial pesticide applicators... Defendants were either grossly negligent or so careless that they were recklessly indifferent to the harm they were causing to people, property and the environment by their unlawful offsite pesticide drifts," stated Judge Kronlund in the December 2022 judgment.
The five incidents covered by the judgment occurred in Sacramento and San Joaquin counties where they were initially investigated by county agricultural commissioners. The state’s county agricultural commissioners enforce state pesticide use laws and regulations with oversight from DPR. Commissioners provide compliance and safety outreach and education to workers and communities; monitor and evaluate the use of restricted materials and fumigants to ensure safe applications of pesticides are occurring across the state; and conduct investigations and take enforcement actions against pesticide use violations.
"Alpine’s blatant actions introduced unnecessary risks to the San Joaquin County community. It is our job to take such actions seriously and take appropriate enforcement actions when necessary. We avert potential exposure to pesticides through the enforcement and compliance work our office conducts every day," said San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Kamal Bagri.
"It took a lot of staff work to investigate these violations, and county and state time to see this to conclusion," said Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner Chrisandra Flores. "We plan to ensure that Alpine follows all pesticide laws and regulations to protect public health and our environment."
Incidents covered by the judgment:
- Bouldin Island. In May 2014, over several days, Alpine applied herbicides to nearly 5,000 acres of land on Bouldin Island, located northwest of Stockton in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The applications were done in unsuitable weather conditions, causing the chemicals to drift onto numerous crops causing 139 separate reports of crop loss.
- Turner Academy. In April 2017, pesticides from an aerial application to a neighboring orchard landed on the Turner Academy, a special education school in Lodi. School staff discovered corrosive pesticides on school buildings, grass fields, playground equipment, picnic benches and sidewalks.
- San Joaquin County Regional Sports Complex: On two occasions in September 2019, pesticides being applied to a Stockton pumpkin field drifted onto a nearby sports complex. In one instance, children and their families were present.
- Isleton: In July 2020, pesticides from an aerial application drifted onto a woman standing in her backyard in Isleton in Sacramento County.
"Alpine recklessly endangered people and property on multiple occasions over a span of six years," said DPR Director Julie Henderson. "Together with county agricultural commissioners and other local and state government partners, we are holding Alpine accountable for its actions. The fines and additional oversight ordered by the court will help ensure Alpine’s future compliance with the law."
In addition to monetary fines, over the next five years, Alpine will be required to:
- Have licensed spotters on the ground at application sites to ensure applications are being conducted lawfully.
- Provide 48-hour advance notification of planned pesticide applications to residences, schools and businesses ("sensitive sites") within 1/4 mile of the application site. Alpine is also required to notify DPR and the local county agricultural commissioner’s office of these applications at least 48 hours in advance. DPR posted information on its website regarding this requirement.
- Submit monthly reports to DPR listing all the sensitive sites notified during the prior month. The reports must specify how sensitive sites were notified and include copies of the notices provided.
The court judgment follows a March San Joaquin County Superior Court decision that found Alpine liable for the drift incidents. That case was prosecuted by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, California Department of Justice and DPR.
ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OF PESTICIDE REGULATION
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation protects human health and the environment by fostering safer and sustainable pest management practices, and by operating a robust regulatory system. The department evaluates and registers pesticides and monitors, regulates and oversees enforcement of their sale and use in California.
DPR’s work includes conducting scientific evaluations of pesticides to assess and mitigate potential harm to human health and the environment. These evaluations are conducted prior to and following registration. Pesticides must be registered before they can be sold or used in California. DPR also monitors air and water for the presence of pesticides and enforces pesticide laws and regulations in coordination with the 55 County Agricultural Commissioners and their combined 500 field inspectors across the state’s 58 counties. DPR invests in innovative research, outreach, and education to encourage the development and adoption of safer, integrated pest management tools and practices. DPR conducts outreach to ensure pesticide workers, farmworkers and local communities have access to pesticide safety information.