News Local/State

Dozens Of Workers Sprayed In Champaign County Corn Field


Officials at Carle Foundation Hospital now say they treated almost 80 teenagers who were sprayed with a fungicide as they worked in a corn field near Pesotum.

Authorities say the teens were cutting the pollinating tassels off corn plants Thursday morning when the chemical drifted onto them from a crop duster.

Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana said in a news release that 79 teens were sent to the hospital for treatment. All were expected to be sent home Thursday.

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman said investigators were headed the scene Thursday afternoon.

Emergency room director Allen Rinehart said some of the teenagers had minor skin irritation after the incident in nearby Pesotum.

Four were transported by ambulance to Carle Hospital with breathing problems and flu-like symptoms. Ferber said the rest were taken to the hospital by bus, and a nurse was provided by Monsanto Company, which operates the field.

The crew was decontaminated at the scene with soapy water.  A Monsanto spokesman says the fungicide was being applied in an adjoining field.

"We place the highest priority on the safety and wellbeing of our employees and contractors," said spokesman Tom Helsher, in a statement.  "Field crews are trained on how to respond in the event of such incidents.  Emergency responders were notified immediately."

University of Illinois Extension Educator Dan Bowman trains crop dusters.  He said the pilot should have been prepared to keep their distance.

“The applicator is probably the one that is ultimately responsible for checking out the field, knowing the wind conditions, and making sure the spray stays in the target field," he said.  "That’s what they’re trained to do.  In this case, there probably will be some repercussions on the applicator."

Bowman says the detasseling crew should be fortunate that the duster was spraying fungicide, and not an insecticide, which could have been more dangerous.

OSHA spokesman Scott Allen said the agency will review the employer-employee relationship within Monsanto. 

"We're going to conduct interviews with the employers, employees, potential witnesses, anyone that could provide us information as to whether the company, the employer, was following all OSHA regulations," he said.