Crop duster

ShutterstockPlease be careful where you dump that toxic load.

Too many crop dusters are accidentally missing their targets and spraying poisonous pesticides where they’re not supposed to go, killing crops and sickening farmers’ neighbors.

Indiana Public Media reports that three-quarters of farm pesticide violations in the state involve what is euphemistically called “drift.” That is, the chemicals don’t land where they’re intended to. From the report, which is the first in a three-part series on the problem:

[Farmer Brett] Middlesworth grows about 300 acres of tomatoes each year, but last summer he saw about a tenth of his yield damaged by a single instance of pesticide drift.

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It happened halfway through the growing season. His neighbor was spraying a soybean field with Roundup herbicide. The wind picked up and carried the spray across the property line and onto Middlesworth’s tomatoes.

As Roundup targets broadleaf weeds, and tomatoes are broadleaf plants, the area closest to his neighbor was a total loss. …

[T]he Office of the Indiana State Chemist, the agency tasked with enforcing state pesticide laws, documented 97 cases from 2010 through 2012 where applicators spraying farms violated anti-drift laws.

Most reports of harm caused by pesticides drifting onto someone’s property involve damage to plants. But in the last several years, the state has documented a dozen violations where someone said exposure to drifting pesticides made them sick.

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Growers report making headway in the last few years with voluntary efforts aimed at preventing drift damage, but produce industry leaders say they are worried the approval of new genetically modified crops could undo that progress.

And other kinds of problems can arise from unintended pesticide fallout. We told you earlier this week that pesticides appear to be blowing from California’s Central Valley into the state’s mountains, where they are accumulating in the bodies of frogs.