By Paula Walter
B & W Quality Growers, who leased multiple fields in Shady Valley to grow arugula, a field green, will not be returning to Shady Valley in 2013. According to Richard Burgoon, chairman of B & W Quality Growers, the decision was made not to utilize several of their farms this year, including Shady Valley. For some residents, this comes as welcome news.
In November of 2010, residents of the Valley noticed a heavy, pungent odor that permeated throughout much of the area surrounding the arugula fields recently sprayed with metam sodium, an agricultural soil fumigant, on both November 9th and 13th of 2010. While it is used as a pesticide, herbicide and a fungicide and can be used on food and feed crops, metam sodium is rated highly toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is considered a carcinogen and has been known to cause both birth and developmental defects. Multiple residents in Shady Valley complained of respiratory problems, throat irritation, allergies, bronchitis, sore throats, along with mouth ulcerations, all consistent with symptoms of exposure to metam sodium.
Approximately three weeks after the pesticide spraying, roughly 50 residents gathered at the Shady Valley Country Store for a meeting to discuss on-going health problems and concerns about their water source, along with the smell that had not yet dissipated. They reported the lack of wildlife in the region, as well as the demise of 71 koi and goldfish from one residents pond.
Tom Womack, the Director of Public Affairs for Tennessee Department of Agriculture(TDA) confirmed they received three complaints from residents of Shady Valley with regard to health problems after the pesticide application. Inspectors were called in to take water, fish and vegetative samples to determine if there had been a misapplication or violation that occurred during the recent spraying. Womack confirmed the pesticide in question was metam sodium.
According to the results of the TDA investigation, Highland Soil Fumigation, who was contracted by the arugula growers, received nine violations totaling $10,850 in civil penalties for failure to use metam sodium as directed on the product label, along with another nine violations for failure to keep improper records. B & W Quality Growers were also cited by the TDA with seven worker protection violations totaling $1,750 in civil penalties. The department looked at many factors while conducting their investigation, including water samples, application records, weather conditions, as well as interviewing both employees and Shady Valley residents.
It has been over two years since the misapplication of metam sodium in Shady Valley. Despite the length of time that has passed, birds remain scarce, as does other forms of wildlife, including rabbits and deer. Several sources also indicated there are still people suffering with health problems, including various cancers, as well as respiratory and heart-related health issues.
By Paula Walter