Tips on filing pesticide damage complaints

Tips on filing pesticide damage complaints It's a typical summer day in South Dakota, the wind is gusty and temperatures are warm. In the afternoon, you notice a strange odor and someone spraying a field near your home. You wonder about the safety of spraying on such a warm, windy day and if it will hurt your trees.

A couple of days later, you notice curled leaves on your trees, and you want to find out what you can do about it. One option is to contact the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) and file a pesticide damage complaint.

Although pesticide applicators are trained to apply pesticides safely and products are labeled with instructions to prevent drift, occasionally damage occurs. The SDDA takes complaint calls on pesticide drift, pesticide damage, pesticide or fertilizer spills and a variety of other related incidents. But how do you know when it is appropriate to file a complaint?

Here are a few suggestions:

If damage has been done to the environment (trees, bushes, etc.) or a non-target field because of spray drift, a spill or another similar incident, or;

If you notice pesticide drift occurring while an applicator is spraying, or;

If a spill of over 25 gallons of liquid material or 500 pounds dry material occurs.

A complaint must be filed within 30 days after the date that the damage occurs. If a growing crop is allegedly damaged, the complaint must be filed before 25 percent of the crop has been harvested.

After receiving the complaint, the case is assigned to an ag inspector and a complaint form is sent to the individual for completion. The inspector arranges to meet with the individual as soon as possible to start the investigation process. The inspector will want to know what was observed and the names of anyone else witnessing the application.

The inspector will visually examine the damaged area, possibly obtain foliage, soil, and water samples, and take photos of the area for documentation. The inspector will also contact producers with adjoining land to document all spraying that took place around the damaged area. This includes the complainant's spraying activities, private or commercial applications and any other applications in the area.

These investigations are conducted for the purpose of ensuring compliance with state and federal laws. After the case has been reviewed, the department determines if an enforcement action is appropriate and what that enforcement action should be, if any.

Possible enforcement actions range from a warning, license revocation or a civil penalty of up to $5,000 per violation.

The S.D. Department of Agriculture spends a considerable amount of time investigating pesticide drift and spill complaints, and every effort is made to conduct a thorough and complete investigation. The department does not have the authority to recover damages for anyone seeking restitution.

If you have a complaint to file or have questions about the complaint process, contact the SDDA at 605/773-4432.

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