Report is critical of state agency’s pesticide survey

WENATCHEE – Results of a phone survey done by the state Agriculture Department were misrepresented by the agency, leading to the department’s decision not to adopt a rule to give schools, nursing homes, hospitals and day cares two-day notice of pesticide applications, The Wenatchee World reported.

In a Dec. 30 news release, the agency said it had surveyed principals of 58 schools in the Wenatchee and Yakima areas and did not find any consensus about the value of the proposed rule.

However, interviews and a review of the survey documents by the newspaper showed that only 33 of the 48 institutions polled were schools, and that people answering questions were not always principals, but rather administrators, secretaries or maintenance workers. There were eight hospitals and seven nursing homes represented.

The newspaper also found that six of eight Wenatchee schools and three Wenatchee-area nursing homes said they wanted to be notified. Of the 48 surveyed, 25 were interested in spray notifications, 18 were not, two said maybe and three had no opinion.

Department spokesman Jason Kelly said the results were “mischaracterized in the press release” because of a breakdown in communications between the department’s pesticide management program and communications office.

While the press release cited a “lack of consensus” from the phone survey as a factor, Kelly said Agriculture Director Valoria Loveland dropped the proposal because it was unworkable and schools, nursing homes, hospitals and day care centers hadn’t asked for it.

The agency was trying to identify schools for a pilot program on pesticide notification, said Kirk Mayer, manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.

Mayer said it was unfortunate the department didn’t keep better track of interviews, but it made the right decision in dropping the rule since it was not shown that it would lead to any public health benefit.

Carol Dansereau, director of the Farm Worker Pesticide Project in Seattle, said regardless of any survey numbers, the department has an obligation to protect public health.

She said the department discounted hundreds of form letters and e-mails favoring the proposed rule.

Copies of letters and e-mails the department provided to The Wenatchee World showed 277 in favor and 25 opposed.

The department’s count was 41 opposed, 39 in favor and 21 more in favor if the rule was expanded, according to Ann Wick, the department’s lead person on pesticide management.

The department excluded 214 form letters from its tally because it didn’t take as much effort as individually written letters and because the department tries to make decisions by consensus, not majority rule, Wick said.

Copies of the proposed rule and information about it were mailed to 297 school districts, 247 nursing homes and 117 hospitals to gather comments, Wick said, but few responded.

The phone survey was another attempt to get reaction, she said, but noted that it wasn’t statistically valid.

Had there been overwhelming favorable response to the rule in the phone survey, the department would have looked into doing a statistical survey, Wick said.

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