of Doubt: Questions about enforcement of pesticide laws
Moorhead, Minn. — Millions of pounds of pesticides
are used in Minnesota every year. They're used on a variety
of farm crops across rural Minnesota. Pesticides are also
commonly used on lawns, parks and golf courses.
Every year some of those chemicals
are misused. Sometimes people and animals are exposed
to pesticides. Those incidents often violate state and
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture
is the only state agency responsible for enforcing those
laws. But an MPR investigation finds violations of the
law are often unpunished, and sometimes ignored.
It happens to people working in farm
fields, and children at school. An accidental or careless
application exposes them to dangerous pesticides.
"The big cloud of pesticide was just
on top of us. It was just fumigating us totally. It covered
our bodies," Griselda Lopez, a migrant farm worker, recalls
a 1993 incident involving her family. "We started yelling
and jumping so the guy could see us -- and he never stopped,
so we started running to the truck."
Lopez says the five workers were sick
by the time they reached the edge of the field. But instead
of getting help from the Ag Department, Lopez says she
felt as though the department was working against them.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture's
lead investigator says all allegations of pesticide misuse
are aggressively pursued. But in some cases, even when
the law is clearly broken, the department takes no action.
Critics, including some lawmakers who
want to change the Ag Department's approach to pesticide
investigations, say they think the department is beholden
to large ag companies.
"I've come to believe that the political
power is with growers, and the perspective of the department
is to serve the growers," says Cheryl Bergian, an attorney
who represented farm workers exposed to pesticides. "So
they don't have the institutional will to determine there
have been violations of the law, unless they are incredibly