Open jugs of herbicide kept where children play
Last January, 9-year old Ashton Satterlee made an odd discovery in the Pullman city park behind her home where she played nearly every day.
“They’re milk jugs, Dad, only they’re painted like the Army,” the third-grader told her father, Washington State University chemistry professor, James Satterlee.
The research chemist and his wife, architect Sandra Satterlee, were stunned by what they found in Lawson Garden Park: camouflage-painted, gallon milk jugs, each practically full of liquid herbicide, tucked under bushes and vines throughout the park.
Since July 1996, at least 15 of the open jugs had been kept in the garden where children play.
The Satterlees are furious with state inspectors and Pullman city officials, who they say misled them about the chemical concentrations in the jugs and inaccurately described the contents as less harmful than drinking a cup of coffee.
Their complaint about the Washington Department of Agriculture has helped trigger a federal investigation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency probe begins this month with a review of hundreds of pesticide complaints statewide over the past two years.
“This is one of the cases that has focused our attention,” said EPA pesticide expert Lyn Frandsen in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the city of Pullman gardener who placed the jugs in the park was recently notified of the state’s intent to fine him $2,300 for mishandling pesticides and endangering children. “Pesticide” is a term for any chemical used for killing insects or weeds, including herbicides.
Ashton’s parents are convinced the chemicals sickened their only child.
Lab tests showed several powerful herbicides clinging to the socks and mittens she wore in the park last winter. She was sick for months with asthma-like problems and was referred to Spokane pediatric lung specialist Dr. Michael McCarthy.
Ashton’s symptoms are “strongly suggestive” of exposure to pesticides, McCarthy said.
“These chemicals disturb the respiratory tract. Coughing is usually the main symptom, and she had a chronic cough with no cold symptoms,” McCarthy said.
Recently Ashton developed allergic reactions she never had before, including hives, her parents said.
“She’s missed a lot of school. This was a healthy kid a year ago,” James Satterlee said.
Ashton’s no longer allowed to play in the park – since she found yet another chemical-filled jug along a sidewalk 50 yards from her home in May.
The Satterlee’s scare came two months after another incident, involving Seattle public relations executive John Hough.
Hough became severely ill after he and his hunting dogs were sprayed in November with a heavy cloud of 2,4-D in public wetlands near Hanford.
The two cases are unusual. They involved well educated professionals, who challenged state inspectors’ assertions that nothing bad had happened to them – and who had the clout to keep pushing for a thorough investigation.
“I’d hate to be a poor Hispanic farm worker and have to deal with these people. That’s what bothers me the most–they are trying to minimize the dangers of pesticides,” James Satterlee said in an interview Wednesday at his home.
Department of Agriculture Director Jim Jesemig has denied his department is lax in enforcing pesticide laws.