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State agrees to settle Ag-Mart pesticide case

Posted June 9, 2010

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— The North Carolina Pesticide Board on Wednesday unanimously voted to settle a long-standing case involving a Florida tomato grower blamed for using pesticides that led to birth defects in several workers’ children.

"It spares North Carolina taxpayers a lengthy court battle, and we still get our ultimate goal, which is compliance," Brian Long, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said of the seven-member panel's decision.

Ag-Mart to pay $25K in state settlement Ag-Mart to pay $25K in state settlement

The state began investigating Ag-Mart Produce Inc. in 2004 after several workers on farms in Brunswick and Pender counties gave birth to babies with deformities.

Workers testified at hearings in 2008 that the company's regional manager, Jeff Oxley, forced them back in the fields too soon after pesticides were sprayed. In some cases, plants were still wet, they said.

The North Carolina Pesticide Board ultimately found Oxley guilty of 48 violations of state pesticide regulations. It ordered that his pesticide applicator license be revoked for two years and that he also be fined $24,000 in civil penalties.

Ag-Mart appealed the decision to Superior Court in Wake County, but the court has yet to take up the appeal.

Attorneys for the Department of Agriculture and Ag-Mart spent nearly a year negotiating a settlement, in which Ag-Mart will pay $24,000 to settle the violations and an additional $1,000 for a violation in 2006.

Ag-Mart will also fund a training program for farm workers and drop its legal appeals, and Oxley will keep his pesticide applicator's license.
The state also agrees to issue a public statement that Ag-Mart has had no pesticide violations since 2006.

"We're pleased to conclude this matter, which recognizes Ag-Mart's compliance with state pesticide law," Ag-Mart's attorney, Mitch Armbruster, said.

The case prompted then-Gov. Mike Easley in 2008 to appoint a task force to look into the issue of farm worker exposure to pesticides.

Several new pesticide record-keeping rules went into effect May 1, as a result of that task force. They involve recording the ending time of pesticide applications, recording of daily applications and how long growers must maintain records.

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  • TRAIN Jun 10, 2010

    NO QUESTION ABOUT IT THIS SHOULD HAVE WENT TO COURT , ON
    AG-MARTS TAB. NOT THE STATES. THESE POOR PEOPLE WILL HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. I THINK 24K IS AND INSULT COMPARED TO WHAT OTHER PEOPLE RECIEVE FOR ACCIDENTS AND MALPRACTICE.

  • shortcake53 Jun 10, 2010

    How heartbreaking to see a baby who should not have been exposed to such poison. That company needs to step up and make sure those children have the best life possible. The company also needs to prove they are using the best teaching and monitoring methods possible to anyone who handles this awful stuff.

  • freedomrings Jun 9, 2010

    I believe one couple settled privately with Ag-Mart. But, you're right...it is a shame. Ag-mart should have been fined millions for this.

    The NC department of agriculture actually has employees whose sole purpose is to visit migrant farms and inspect them and educate the workers about PPE. The catch : most of the inspections are scheduled.

  • Adelinthe Jun 9, 2010

    This is sad.

    In other words, for $24,000 the affected workers and the children get little to nothing.

    Shame of that pesticide sprayer.

    And SHAME OF NC too.

    Praying for those poor people, forever affected by this travesty.

    God bless.

    RB

  • KingDad Jun 9, 2010

    This is absurd. These disfigured kids and their families deserve far better than this little slap on the wrist. This fool should lose his license permanently and spend some jail time.

    It would be interesting to see how many people on the “North Carolina Pesticide Board” were appointed by Easley & Company.

  • freedomrings Jun 9, 2010

    This story has been front page news in local Hispanic papers for years now. The babies were born without arms and legs. This man also made the workers work without proper PPE ( personal protective equipment ) like gloves and masks.

    Here is a link from a 2005 article along with a photo of the one of the babies : http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://media.tbo.com/photos/trib/2008/mar/032408agmart.jpg&imgrefurl=http://plantcity2.tbo.com/content/2008/mar/24/242133/ag-mart-produce-settles-lawsuit-ove-deformed-baby/&usg=__rUsy3uB6dMgNGB29zDHYbgWRw1E=&h=300&w=400&sz=31&hl=en&start=1&sig2=LCVorGSNBhTAy7oevV55Yg&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=t_u9CyIw9dbcFM:&tbnh=93&tbnw=124&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dag-mart%2Bdeformed%2Bbabies%2Bnc%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26sa%3DN%26tbs%3Disch:1&ei=IgAQTOD6BIL6lwes67yQDQ

    Seems like this guy got off easily. Disgusting.

  • WHEEL Jun 9, 2010

    The fines are so small because the State's investigation was so sloppy that they couldn't proove illegal exposures or that the birth defects were related to exposures at all.

  • beachy97118 Jun 9, 2010

    So that's all for the birth defects those kids will live with?

  • tatermommy52 Jun 9, 2010

    What political party did the company and its owners contribute to. The paltry fine shows how the government treats big business and the local worker. The story mentioned Easley so there is crookedness somewhere.

  • bopeace1999 Jun 9, 2010

    They only revoked it for two years? They should have revoked it for life.