PESOTUM — Carle Foundation Hospital reported seeing 79 patients Thursday who were exposed to what was believed to be fungicide as they were detasseling corn in southern Champaign County just before 9 a.m. All were expected to be released by evening.
Several dozen teens were hit by drift from a crop-dusting plane that was over an adjacent field in southeast of Pesotum.
“Patients that were brought to Carle were evaluated as a precaution and a few teens were treated for minor skin irritations,” said Allen Rinehart, Director of Carle’s emergency department. “The efforts of Monsanto and the first responders ensured that each teen was thoroughly decontaminated immediately on site. We appreciate the collaborative work of those in the field and Carle staff throughout the day.”
At least three area fire departments responded to a field a half-mile south of the intersection of county roads 200 N and 1100 E.
At the scene, township road officials blocked the roads nearby so emergency vehicles could get through.
Tom Helscher, director of corporate affairs for Monsanto in St. Louis, said 75 young people were on the crew detasseling corn in a field producing Monsanto corn seed.
"As a precaution, members ... were sent to Carle Hospital in Urbana after some members may have been inadvertently sprayed with what we understand was a fungicide being applied by an aerial crop duster to an adjacent field," he said.
Helscher said crews immediately notified local fire departments and followed standard safety and decontamination procedures, including washing and, as appropriate, changing clothes.
"Field crews are trained on how to respond in the event of such incidents," Helscher said.
"Some thought they may have felt droplets. We err on the conservative side. This was very minute if they were exposed at all. We had just a few of the crew that complained of nausea or skin irritation," he said.
Champaign County sheriff's Sgt. Dan Coile said deputies had no information on the plane or its owner. Helscher said the adjacent field being sprayed did not belong to Monsanto.
The Pesotum and Tolono fire departments responded and the Champaign Fire Department sent its decontamination truck for anyone who might have gotten a larger dose of the spray.
"It's a mobile shower station," said Capt. John Barker. "They can go into the decon truck and take a shower. The runoff can be contained so no more chemicals go to places they shouldn't be."
Barker said professionals have determined that Dawn dish detergent and baby shampoo tend to be the most effective in decontamination.
The children were being taken by bus to Carle Hospital to be checked out as a precaution. There were no reports of anyone being seriously affected by the spray.
The hospital had set up an area in its main lobby where parents could pick up their children. Parents would need identification, the hospital said.
Fred Below, a University of Illinois professor of crop sciences, said that while it's not good to be sprayed with a fungicide, the situation is likely not life-threatening.
"Those airplanes put on a low gallonage. Is it dangerous to be hit? Yes, but it's probably a fine mist. They would want to wash it off them right away and change clothing," he said. "You have to take these things seriously."