Thirteen farm workers appear to have been exposed to pesticides as they worked in a garlic field on Gosford Road south of Highway 119 Wednesday morning.
Initial reports of the incident, which came at 7 a.m., said 100 people were affected by symptoms including eye irritation and nausea. That turned out to be inaccurate.
Kern County Fire Department Capt. Jason Knaggs said that around 60 to 70 people were working in the area.
After arriving on scene, firefighters and staff of the Kern County Environmental Health Division identified only 13 individuals suffering from minor nausea, eye irritation, headaches and other symptoms that indicate pesticide exposure.
California Highway Patrol officials closed Gosford Road between Highway 119 and Houghton Road to prevent others from coming into contact with the pesticide. All the workers in the area were evacuated. The road remained closed until around noon, Knaggs said.
The 13 people who showed symptoms of exposure, Knaggs said, were decontaminated in an enclosed series of showers that removed any pesticide they may have been exposed to.
“We just want to make sure they’re OK,” he said as the decontamination process was going on.
Later two of the affected individuals complained of feeling ill and were transported by ambulance to a hospital, Knaggs said.
Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Glenn Fankhauser said his department is investigating the possible sources of pesticides that may have caused the complaints – and whether there were any violations of pesticide regulations.
Two possible sources of pesticides have been identified – though it is too soon to confirm where the chemicals came from or whether violations of chemical safety rules took place.
The most likely source, Fankhauser said, was a field adjacent to the garlic field the farm workers were harvesting.
The fumigant Vapam had been applied to that field on Tuesday, he said.
Usually a seal is used to make sure the chemicals don’t migrate off the field and one focus of the investigation will be to determine if the correct procedures were used in the application of those chemicals, Fankhauser said.
He said there was a 25-foot gap between the two fields and workers were harvesting garlic in very close proximity to the field where Vapam had been applied the day before.
Vapam’s active ingredient is metam sodium, which can be fatal if absorbed through the skin and is irritating to eyes, nose and throats.
The other possible source of the chemicals is an alfalfa field located between one-half and one mile southwest of the work site where Vulcan had recently been sprayed by a helicopter.
Vulcan contains chlorpyrifos, which can cause headaches nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and other symptoms up to and including death.