On Tuesday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), and San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar secured a decision by the San Joaquin County Superior Court against Alpine Helicopter Service, Inc. (Alpine) and several of its employee pilots.
Tuesday’s decision was in their favor, determining that Alpine failed to apply pesticides in accordance with industry standards. Previously, in 2020, the California Department of Justice and DPR filed a lawsuit alleging that Alpine violated laws prohibiting pesticide drift, endangering the public’s health and safety. Separately, District Attorney Verber Salazar filed a lawsuit against the company, and the two cases were later consolidated.
“Today’s decision is an important win for the many in our state who live and work in agricultural communities,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Pesticides are toxic chemicals, and we have safeguards in place for a reason. Alpine’s careless approach to pesticide application is unacceptable. This decision should send a strong message to businesses: If you violate the law and ignore the safety of our communities, we will hold you accountable.”
The court’s decision found Alpine and several of its employee pilots liable for the following pesticide drift incidents:
- Bouldin Island: In May 2014, Alpine applied herbicides to nearly 5,000 acres of land located in San Joaquin County’s Bouldin Island during unsuitable weather conditions, causing the chemicals to drift onto numerous crops causing substantial crop losses. This incident was prosecuted by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.
- Turner Academy: In April, 2017, pesticides from an aerial application landed on Turner Academy, a special education school in Lodi, when applying to a neighboring orchard. School staff discovered corrosive pesticides on school buildings, grass fields, playground equipment, picnic benches and sidewalks. This incident was prosecuted by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.
- San Joaquin County Regional Sports Complex: In September 2019, pesticides from two aerial applications drifted onto a sports complex in Stockton that serves disadvantaged communities that already experience disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution. In one instance, children and their families were present at the sports complex playing soccer at the time of pesticide application.
- Isleton: In July 2020, pesticides from an aerial application drifted onto a woman standing in her backyard in Isleton in Sacramento County.
“The blatantly careless actions of Alpine threaten the health and safety of children and communities,” said DPR’s acting chief deputy director, Karen Morrison. “The company’s repeated and negligent violations are unacceptable in California and DPR applauds the court’s decision finding liability in each case. DPR takes all violations very seriously, and does not tolerate cases of illegal pesticide drift. DPR’s ongoing enforcement of pesticide use laws and regulations play a critical role in the department’s mission to protect human health and the environment.”
Tuesday’s decision is a finding on Alpine’s liability for multiple instances of pesticide drift. Litigation to determine penalties is ongoing. A copy of the decision can be found here.
“We have a duty to hold accountable those who act with reckless disregard for the safety and health of our community. Responsible applications of pesticides are paramount to protecting our environment while sustaining a vibrant agricultural economy,” said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “Thank you to the Quality of Life Division, Deputy District Attorney Kelly McDaniel, the San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, and the Attorney General’s Office for their commitment to the safety of all Californians.”