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Farmers Need A Pesticide Safety Plan, Expert Says

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Written Tuesday, September 22, 1998  

For farmers who use fertilizers and pesticides, a chemical accident is analogous to a small fire--if it's not handled properly, and with haste, it could become a catastrophe.

Fred Whitford, coordinator of Purdue's Pesticide Program, says a well-developed pesticide plan is key to preventing such a catastrophe.

"In agriculture we have to make the assumption that something terrible could happen to us. It could take a lot of forms--fire, tornado, injury. In agriculture the rate for all of these is pretty high. Those are real numbers, not a maybe," Whitford says. "To handle these problems, we need a plan of attack."

Whitford says farmers should write such a plan because they need it, not because regulations force them to. "If you're doing it because regulatory people tell you to, don't do it, because all you'll do is generate paper," he says. "You're doing it to protect your family, to protect the land and water, to protect your investment, to protect your friends at the fire department and the hospital, and to protect yourself against financial penalties. That last item is listed last, where it should be."

Whitford says a pesticide safety plan should contain these items:

* Directions to your farm on an index card next to each phone. "You never know who might be making the call for help. It might be a temporary worker who wasn't paying attention to the location of the farm while he was being driven out there; it might be someone driving by who noticed a problem; or it could be a family member who is so hysterical that they are unable to think clearly," Whitford says. "Use current street numbers and roads. Leave off things such as landmarks that many people who don't live in your neighborhood won't recognize."

* Chemical inventory. "This should be taken twice a year, during months with highest inventory, perhaps in winter or spring, and again in months with lowest inventory, probably during the early fall. That allows people to see if they're dealing with large or small quantities. And the chemicals should be consolidated into one building."

* Site layout. "That's nothing more than getting a piece of typing paper and drawing the farm out," he says. A site layout should include water flows across the surface, ditches and rivers; names of buildings and the materials inside them, including bulk tanks and mini-bulk tanks; above-ground fuel and anhydrous tanks; tile drains and wells; and any other information relevant to emergency responders.

* Response for medical emergencies. Whitford says farmers should consider adding copies of the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for each of the chemicals on their farm. The sheets contain phone numbers of medical experts who are trained to deal with particular chemicals. "The MSDS is basically the bible for the responders. It's where the manufacturer has told them how to react to the emergency," he says.

* List of police and fire department phone numbers, your emergency planning committee; emergency medical and/or ambulance services; your chemical, anhydrous ammonia and propane dealers; the electric utility; the Indiana poison control center; and contractors who provide backhoes or bulldozers, or who will deliver sand.

Copies of the finished plan should go in the farm truck, in the house, in the shop, and perhaps most importantly, in a PVC tube or box where it would be safest in an emergency, but still be highly visible to responders.

"You might want to deliver a copy to local agencies, such as fire departments, that might be responding to emergencies at your farm. Many people you'd be dealing with in an emergency are deadly afraid of pesticides, fuels and chemicals, and you need to try to ease that fear to ensure a prompt response."

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