Swaggie certainly did.  Her question:  what can you do if you or your property gets unintentionally sprayed?

The family lives in Australia for a fair amount of time, and camps on their 80 acres in the Franklin region when the urge takes them.  Last June they were accidentally sprayed.

She didn’t know what the spray was, who the contractor flying overhead was, or, for that matter, who’d arranged it.

Because they’re not always there, she thinks people assume they are away and don’t bother to contact them on the various issues of the day.

“So we were sprayed, our tank supply would have received a coating and at the end of the day, as our daughter was there ‘looking at that plane flying so low’ she copped a face full too.”

So – what could she have done there and then.

Caren McConnell says there are a number of things one can do.  Caren helped set up Waikato Against Toxic and Chemical Hazards (Watch) in 2003 when the Ministry of Agriculture wanted to spray the Asian gypsy moth in Hamilton.  Depending on the circumstances, she recommends:

  • Wash anyone exposed to the chemical in cold water
  • Ring the neighbour and tell them that spray has drifted onto the property
  • Ask what it is, what dilution it’s being applied, and who the contractor is
  • Find out its purpose, target crop
  • May need to wash plants or replace the water in outside fish tanks
  • Ring the regional council and notify them of what’s happened and inquire as to the course of action
  • “Spray drift is being taken more seriously now,” she says and points to the recently established Peoples’ Inquiry into aerial spraying.

Getting in touch with the appropriate regional council seems a key step and Caren said there was a lot of variation between them – she added that the Bay of Plenty is a good one.

Steven Pickles, principal compliance officer at EBoP, suggested a few things Swaggie could have done.

The first was removing herself and her family from the area and seeking medical advice.  Next, get in touch with the council so an investigation can begin.

“Our procedure is to notify the Medical Officer of Health if an alleged health issue has resulted from spray drift.  I’d also suggest the affected person records as much information as possible about the event, such as wind and weather conditions, times, details of the plane if possible, and the property being sprayed.”

His council’s rules on the issue boil down to an overriding requirement that ‘the discharge must not result in any harmful concentration of agrichemical beyond the property boundary or into the water.”  And, in most cases, people have to be notified.

Specifically – when aerial spraying they must notify adjoining properties within 200m of the target property.  When spraying by land-based mechanical methods, they have to notify adjoining properties within 50m of the property.  Adjoining is important – “technically, if they are separated by a lane, they don’t need to be notified.  I understand that this is being addressed….

As more and more lifestyle blocks become developed close to users of agrichemicals, the problem is a very real one.

“Continued education of the issues with orchardists, contractors, and residents will help reduce the likelihood of spray drift occurring.  There’s a real push within the industry to do things right, so hopefully over the coming years incidents like this will not occur.”

 Environment Waikato’s Barry Charles says the council has an 0800 number people can use during work hours. Otherwise, there’s a Ready Response duty person on call after hours.

He suggests disconnecting pipes that feed into water tanks and possibly washing the roof down.

EW gets about one inquiry on the subject per week, depending on weather conditions and the seasons.

“A part of the problem is that the complainant does not know that their property has been sprayed until vegetation starts dying, and then it’s too late.  But for any future incidents, I provide them with information.”

What does the Auckland Regional Council - Swaggie’s council – advise?  Air quality officer Mike Harvey says there are three key things.

  • Reduce effects on you and your property
  • Record the incident (including date, time, witnesses, etc)
  • Report the incident
  • The ARC rules require commercial applicators to have a Growsafe Application Certificate, prepare spray plans and consult with affected parties.

Mike says currently the plan is under appeal in the environment court and as a result, the council is not able to enforce these at present.  However, all applicators are urged to follow the rules, and action can be taken under the proposed Auckland Regional Plan if drift occurs – “and can be proven to have caused an adverse effect.”

For the council to take a successful case, it must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the applicator has caused the spray drift or its effects.

“In most cases, it’s easier for the affected parties to take a civil action as the burden of proof is much less stringent.  To my knowledge, no regional council has yet taken a successful prosecution for spray drift.”

In its brochure, ARC says that legal action is both stressful and expensive.  “In addition, the damage caused by drift is hard to repair.  The best course of action is to prevent spray drift wherever possible – and don’t forget, good communication is the key.”

Finally, some reassuring words for Swaggie from Dr. John Welch,  GP, and medical columnist.  He says it’s very unlikely the chemical was harmful.

“Nature has far more toxic chemicals than man-made examples, with a few exceptions.”

Further information:

NZ Agrichemical Education Trust 04 494 9977
ARC’s Enviroline 09 366 2000