Having lived on a farm for a bit, I've seen crop dusters and gotten to know the pilots who fly them. It's a dangerous business. Not only are the pilots are bulletproof, flying and cavorting sometimes just feet from the ground, but so are the planes, which used to held together with bubble gum and baling twine, but are now highly specialized machines. They take off low, fly even lower and then dodge fences and trees at the end of the fields.
It's like watching a carefully choreographed ballet, especially when the crop dusters fly in tandem, laying down pesticides on the field.
The work they perform is essential for a successful harvest, and frequently one of the best ways to dust a crop. Otherwise, you've got to own a fancy piece of equipment, understand how to mix and apply the chemicals and take a lot more time. Crop dusting is comparatively quick and dirty.
It's the dirty part, however, that can get you into trouble as a pilot, especially on a slightly windy day. Take Patterson Flying Service, for example, who got fined $5,000 after "enveloping" Elena Ruiz in a fog of pesticides. Here's how the case reads, according to the Daily Journal summary: Patterson applied "Dimethoate that drifted onto Elena Ruiz's property. Based on Ruiz's testimony, her medical records, and laboratory analyses of tree leaves in her backyard, the drift from Patterson's aerial application was substantial. Ruiz heard the plane and was enveloped by fog from a crop duster. She suffered all the symptoms of one exposed to pesticides. Doctors treated her with atropine, listed on the Dimethoate label as an antidote to the pesticide. Laboratory results from the leaf samples also showed a substantial pesticide residue six days after Patterson's application."
At that point, again according to the Daily Journal (slightly paraphrased), "the County Agricultural Commissioner fined Patterson $5,000 for failing to follow the label directions to prevent off-site movement of the pesticide, causing a health hazard. Patterson appealed the fine to the Department of Pesticide Regulation Director, who upheld the penalty. The trial court denied relief, despite Patterson's arguments that substantial evidence did not support the commissioner's findings."
"California Food and Agriculture Code section 12973 prohibits any use of pesticide in conflict with directions in the registered label. Dimethoate's label proscribed application of the product in a way that would contact workers or other persons, either directly, or "through drift." There was substantial evidence to support the commissioner's finding of substantial drift from the target site onto Ruiz's property and person. Because this conflicted with the proscription in Dimethoate's labeling, Patterson was properly fined," and the Court properly affirmed the Commissioner's fine.
No more flying under the radar.