The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced that it is initiating a licensing action against TriCal, a company that provides agricultural pesticide-application services to farms throughout Central and Northern California. The agency said the action is based on investigations and enforcement actions undertaken by several County Agricultural Commissioners, District Attorneys and the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9. 

No action has been taken yet. The public announcement is the start of the process to determine what final action will be taken, according to a DPR spokesperson. In at least one previous case, a final decision was not announced until more than 17 months after the initial announcement.

In making the announcement, DPR cited numerous violations that “resulted in serious illness and injury and dozens of other violations,” including the following three accidents in three years.

  • In October 2020, 20 residential bystanders and three members of the Salinas Fire Department experienced symptoms of pesticide exposure from a TriCal misapplication. 
  • In October 2019, 39 fieldworkers in Monterey County were exposed to 1,3-D and chloropicrin due to TriCal’s misapplication. 32 fieldworkers experienced symptoms of pesticide exposure and three people sought medical care for their symptoms. 
  • In October 2018 in Monterey County, TriCal misapplied a product containing 1,3-D and chloropicrin and, as a result, 13 residential bystanders experienced symptoms of pesticide exposure. 

In addition, the agency said TriCal’s San Benito headquarters, and Santa Maria and Ventura branches have significant violation histories dating back nine years. These past violations include a combined 40 incidents – 4 of which were “priority episodes” in Butte, Fresno and Santa Cruz counties. Priority episodes are incidents involving serious illness or injury, or an episode involving five or more people. 

To address these violations, TriCal has paid over $125,000 in administrative civil penalties to County Agricultural Commissioners and a $44,275 fine to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

TriCal’s Director of Marketing Jena Francis said the company was made aware of this most recent action from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and was looking into it. 

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“TriCal is committed to the safety of people and the environment while abiding by the national, state, and county-specific rules for the safe use of pesticides to manage crop-destroying soil pests and pathogens.  California has the strictest agriculture regulations in the world.  TriCal prioritizes following the legally required steps necessary to protect workers, communities and out environment.” 

She also noted that TriCal is a family-owned company offering valuable soil and crop health products and services to farmers in California since 1961. Hollister-based TriCal is one of the largest businesses in California to perform field fumigations, primarily using 1,3-D and chloropicrin. Fumigation involves injecting gaseous fumigant pesticides into soil to kill destructive organisms before planting. 

The fumigant is commonly used on almonds, walnuts, grapevines, strawberries, sweet potatoes, carrots and tree fruit and has “no viable commercial‐scale alternatives,” according to DPR. The agency also noted that the application of these pesticides is subject to a comprehensive set of use restrictions designed to protect public health. 

But the timing of the announcement – after a series of contentious public hearings on a pesticide application alert system last week -  and other DPR announcements on Tuesday that could further tighten restrictions on 1,3-D, raised questions in the agricultural community as to whether this was part of a broader DPR strategy to go “Fumigant free” as some environmental groups have long requested for both conventional and organic treatments. 

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