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Rival’s Tip Led EPA to Penalize Pesticide Firm in Chatsworth

Times Staff Writer

A $7,500 penalty paid by a Chatsworth firm to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for alleged pesticide-law violations resulted from a tip from a rival distributor of farm chemicals in Washington state, according to Washington state and EPA officials.

Without admitting guilt, Eagle Industries Inc., which does business as Sierra Industries, agreed to make the payment to settle a complaint accusing the firm of violating the federal pesticide law by improperly recommending certain rodent baits for use in orchards.

The consent agreement, reached last month with EPA officials in San Francisco, also requires Sierra to try to repurchase any other pesticides for which improper claims were made to buyers.

The case involved the sale of rodent poisons to two buyers in Washington, who allegedly were told by Sierra telephone salesmen that the products were approved for use in orchards. In fact, the EPA-approved label on one of the products--a gopher bait called Rozol--said it should only be used in “non-crop areas.” The label on the other chemical--a rat and mouse poison--said it should not be used near food.

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‘Business Decision’

Stephen Wiman, a lawyer for Sierra, said the firm made a simple “business decision” to pay the $7,500 fine rather than incur high legal costs to fight the EPA, which originally proposed a penalty of $15,000.

“Our position is that there were no representations that this rodent bait would or should be used in orchard areas,” Wiman said. Wiman added that the involvement of a competitor raises questions about the “credibility” of the evidence against Sierra.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, the wording on pesticide labels must be approved by the EPA, and those label directions then have the force of law. It is a violation for the user to disregard the directions, or for a distributor to promote a use inconsistent with those directions.

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A telephone sales campaign by Sierra, at 21125 Superior St., came to the attention of Washington state officials in October through a tip from another chemical distributor in Yakima, Wash., according to Mark Nedrow, an agricultural chemical investigator with the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Origin of Tip

Nedrow said that a farmer who had been offered Rozol by Sierra for use in his orchard inquired about the product at the Yakima office of Wilbur-Ellis Co., a farm chemicals distributor and consultant that operates in several states.

According to Nedrow, a Wilbur-Ellis employee called Sierra and placed an order for Rozol when a salesman told him the product could be used in orchards.

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When the product arrived, carrying the label restricting its use to “non-crop areas,” Wilbur-Ellis contacted the state, which began an investigation.

Nedrow said that in November he also received a complaint from a farmer named Carl McLean, who had bought Rozol and had applied it to 50 acres of his apple orchard.

McLean had run out of Rozol, Nedrow said, and had tried to buy more at Wilbur-Ellis, where he was told the product should not have been used in the orchard.

Files Given to EPA

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After investigating the sales to Wilbur-Ellis and McLean, Nedrow turned his files over to the EPA, which in March issued the complaint to Sierra.

Nedrow said he also informed Sierra in December that it lacked the dealer license it needed to sell pesticides in Washington.

The inquiry raised a separate issue concerning the quality of the gopher bait, which was produced by New York City-based Chempar Products. State laboratory tests showed that the bait contained somewhat less of the active ingredient--chlorophacinone--than shown on the label, which would make it an “adulterated” product under the federal pesticide law.

Glenn Rodenhurst, an official with the EPA pesticide program in Seattle, said the issue will be referred shortly to the EPA in New York for possible action by agency officials there.

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