Two Oregon state agencies have fined helicopter company Applebee Aviation close to $10,000 and suspended the company’s license to spray pesticides after a worker complained of chemical exposure in Douglas County.
Both the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health and the Oregon Department of Agriculture opened investigations in the case brought by Darryl Ivy, a truck driver and pesticide handler who was exposed to herbicides on the job and who released hundreds of photos and videos in alleging unsafe conditions during aerial herbicide sprays.
Ivy’s case is the latest in an ongoing controversy over aerial herbicide spraying on private forestland in Oregon. This past year, advocates tried and failed to push comprehensive reforms through the Oregon Legislature in response to citizen complaints in several counties.
View the Documents:
Ivy began working for Applebee Aviation on April 8, 2015, according to an OSHA report. By April 26, he had quit. That same day he entered the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg, where he was seen for acute chemical exposure.
Hospital staff put Ivy into decontamination and sealed his clothes. Lab results on his urine showed elevated levels of the weed killer atrazine. The incident was referred to state regulators.
Oregon OSHA fined Applebee $8,850 for 10 “serious violations” and one less serious violation, all of which involved inadequate protection of its workers from herbicide exposure.
The company did not provide emergency eye wash or decontamination, proper information and training, or protective equipment, according to the OSHA report. The report also said Applebee did not have procedures to ensure worker compartments, like the cabs of vehicles, remained free of pesticide contamination.
Applebee Aviation did not return a call seeking comment. The company has the right to appeal, but has not yet done so.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture fined the company an additional $1,110 and suspended its license as a commercial pesticide operator.
ODA spokesman Bruce Pokarney said Applebee had already paid its fine with the agency, and that the agency was working with the company to get its license reinstated.
“They need to show a plan that addresses the concerns we’ve had about worker protection,” Pokarney said. “Once they have that plan in place and we feel they’re in a situation where they’re making improvements, we can and would reinstate the license.”
Applebee was hired to apply herbicides for Seneca Jones Timber Company. Typically, herbicides are sprayed in the first few years after logging to reduce competition for newly-planted trees and to produce more valuable, straighter timber crops. Applebee and Seneca were also involved in a complaint about aerial forest spraying in 2014, in which Douglas County residents complained about atrazine drifting across a creek with protected salmon and steelhead populations.
Ivy said he did not find the citations against Applebee satisfying. He expected larger reforms of Oregon’s forest practices.
“I handed all this information off to the agencies and expected them to run with it. I really got an eye opener,” Ivy said. “I hope that maybe as this story gets bigger over the next couple of months, our Legislature, maybe some of them, will stand up and have a voice.”
Ivy took photos and recorded videos on multiple Seneca sites. The ODA said it did not investigate Seneca. OSHA has an open inspection into Seneca. The agency said it could not share details.
“Seneca Timber is directly responsible. They hired Applebee Aviation,” Ivy said. “They’re the ones that own the forest lands and they’re the ones that are allowing the spraying to happen.”
Seneca Timberlands Manager Ted Reiss did not immediately return a call for comment. In previous news reports, Reiss has said his company observed nothing to substantiate Ivy’s claims, and that the company took the case seriously and cooperated with investigators.
In May, Ivy’s story and several videos he took at the work site appeared in The Oregonian/OregonLive. Ivy claimed he and other workers repeatedly had to take cover to avoid being showered with herbicides being sprayed from helicopters. Ivy also alleged the use of leaky equipment, improper handling of pesticide containers and the use of logging roads on land that had freshly slid.
Since then he has been in contact with attorneys and environmental advocates about his case.
OSHA spokeswoman Lisa Morawski said Applebee has a history of safety violations. Incidents include a 2011 vehicle crash that required hospitalization, an amputation in 2013 and a fatal vehicle crash last year in Washington.
“There have been issues with the company before,” Morawski said. “Some of the fines were actually increased a little bit for their safety history.”