Kids May Have Been Sprayed with Chemicals While Detasseling Corn

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MARSHALL COUNTY, Iowa -- A local school bus driver is concerned after he says some of the kids he took to a field to detassel corn may have been exposed to chemicals.

This past weekend, Kurt Bowermaster was hired by Monsanto to drive about two dozen teens from Newton to a field near Laurel to detassel corn. That's when he first spotted a crop duster spraying an adjacent field.

"We were like, 'well, he's pretty close to our field. Should we be concerned?'" Bowermaster said, "We thought that even before we went in the field."

But the kids went into the field anyhow, as the plane got closer and closer. "He was coming way low to the field and then come up and as he was coming up I could see the chemicals coming off the back of the plane," Bowermaster recalled. "And some of the kids were coming out of the field at this point and saying, 'Hey, that crop duster is spraying that field over there' and they're all getting concerned."

So Bowermaster says he called his supervisor and a Monsanto nurse to come over. "While this is all happening the kids are sitting by the bus, there's probably ten of them. They're sitting taking a break, and the supervisor says 'Why are the kids here? Why aren't they in the field working?' And I explained because several of them have told me they think they can smell the chemical. And so they're concerned. They don't want to be in the field. And the nurse and the supervisor said, 'I can tell you they haven't been contaminated.'"

So Bowermaster says he pushed the issue with the nurse, who he says, never even talked with the kids. "And I said, 'if I'm wearing a strong cologne, and you can spell it on me, it's drifting to you, is that correct? So if we can smell chemicals that to me means it's drifting into our area if we can smell them.' She said 'no it's not the same thing. It's totally not the same thing.'"

All of the teenagers were students at Basics and Beyond, an alternative high school in Newton for troubled teenagers. One of their teachers was with them. He didn't want to go on camera but he told Channel 13 he didn't feel the kids were in any danger, and he feels they were just slacking off and trying to get out of working.

Bowermaster was not able to see the serial number on the tail of the plane, so we don't know what chemicals were being sprayed.

Monsanto did release a statement saying: "Our site medical and supervisory personnel were on hand, pulled the crew from the seed field, evaluated the situation, and determined that it was safe for our crews to return to work after the crop duster finished spraying the nearby commercial corn field."

When the kids refused, another crew was sent into the field, and the original kids were sent home for the season. Bowermaster says, it just doesn't seem right.

"The way I was trained by Monsanto there was a certain protocol to handle situations like this and I feel somebody dropped the ball."


  • Christopher Lyons

    Maybe we need to start teaching students OSHA workplace safety regulations, as well as labor laws and legal protections under the law before they’re of working age. I hope these kids get labor rights lawyer any get any compensation and redress they are due under the law.

  • Randy Graven

    They spray continuously around here this time of year. I live in a house my great grandpa built in 1883 and have to breathe it every day. Fungicides, insecticides,you name it. Ever notice there are hardly any lightning bugs anymore? Wonder why. Welcome to Iowa.

    • Karen Feaster

      Randy, I was reading this today an I an my Grandson ( 10 Yrs. old) was talking about that the other day “Lighting Bugs, where are they at anymore?” We had no answer so I’m glad to of seen your comment!! I remember back when we were kids an spent a lot of fun time catching “Lighting Bugs” an as time has passed……no more do we see them like back then!!!! I’m with you so thank you for your comment.

    • marcopolish

      Big story on NPR last week about nicotinimide based pesticides. A lot more than fireflies are dead; and some of your peers were born with autism because of several other pesticides within a few miles of your pregnant mothers (also from brand new research recently made public, which you can find easily enough if you search). But what you don’t know can’t hurt the pesticide companies, so just carry on, you weren’t hired to think or live, but detassle. Nothing to see here.

  • Corey

    Come on why get all worked up, That stuff is good enough to eat!!! you all are just over reacting. getting it sprayed on you and smelling it would not be as bad as eating it. geeeesh!!!

    • dan cook

      Cory, you are a dick, you think that stuff is good for you? You must have enjested too much bug dope and it has fried what LITTLE brain you have

  • Randy Graven

    I quit spraying hebicides on my own crops in 1991 and started hiring it done after 30 years of doing it myself because I could taste it for days after I finished. Breathing it is just as bad as eating it. At least when it’s done by ground equipment there’s nowhere near as much drift. I’m glad my renter doesn’t let the co-ops and the so-called “experts” talk him into plane spraying insecticies and fungicides every five minutes. One of my neighbors sprayed the same 160 acres with an airplane 3 times in 3 weeks for spider mites. guess it didn’t work the first two times.

    • lee

      Spidermites are extremely difficuly to kill. There are no chemicals that kill there eggs so repeated spraying for mites is nessecary, specially at high corn prices.

  • Nell

    I hope Kurt Bowermaster doesn’t let this go. He was the only responsible adult. The others were just doing CYA.

  • Katie

    Oh be sure to ask the company representatives if it’s safe. Of course they’re going to say it is! They’re playing dodge-ball with a lawsuit.I wouldn’t want my child exposed to it.

  • sarah

    the only way to stop this is to have every single one of those kids who refused further contamination and were, in essence, fired because they questioned monsanto’s practices, needs to file a class action lawsuit against the farmer, the crop-duster and monsanto. the driver was RIGHT ON. the nurse is paid to say what she says, as all of them are. these kids and their parents need to have their blood drawn or their tissue tested for chemical contamination…put those SOBs on trial for poisoning a group of people who refused to be polluted any further.

  • Mary Hansen

    Yep! All we are anymore are chemical farmers growing corn syrup and . Who cares if those kids were exposed! They’re going to be fed that garbage at their dinner table, anyway! No different! Unbelieveable what we are doing to our earth and our own children. Iowa has the richest soil in the world and we should be growing diverse and beautiful fruits and vegetables here. Yet, we’re not. We should be rivaling Italy and France in tourism because of our incredible growing abilities, but instead, we are fields and fields of field corn and soybeans that are drenched in deadly chemicals. Shame on all of us for not being in more of an uproar. We’re not an agricultural state–we’re a poisoned state.

  • Troy Hendrickson

    I like that, one of their teachers refuses to identify himself, but basically calls the students lazy, defends Monsanto even though another adult backs the students. There’s someone that needs to lose their job.

  • C Eric

    We have lots of fireflies in NW Iowa – but I haven’t seen much plane spraying either. On another note, this is why I am cautiously pro-gmo; they can reduce the need for pesticides, as well as fungicides.

  • Randy Graven

    Don’t get me wrong-I am not totally against chemicals-if you don’t kep the weeds down and control the insects when there’s a huge infestation there won’t be anything to eat . Organic farming on a large scale isn’t feasible unless you have an unlimited supply of cheap labor to hand weed everything. Also the only way to fertile organically on a large scale is with confinement sewage. Want more of those? How many of you are going to spend days on end walking beans and hoeing corn for minimum wage? Or planting fruits and vegetables and getting a nickel on the dollar when you sell them to walmart or some other wholesaler because they get rotten in a few days and nobody bought them at your stand? Just don’t use any more chemical than is absolutely necessary. And as I’m writing this I can hear three spray planes, which doesn’t make me any happier.

    • Sunshinerainbow

      I know this is random, but I feel like it should almost be a law that everyone has a garden. And for those without a yard, there are plenty of vacant lots around that would work well. And more community gardens too!

  • Randy Graven

    And as far as trusting the chemical companies on safety…these are the people who brought us DDT, Aldrin, Brushcutter(also known as Agent Orange) – all very safe, you know (and all of which I sprayed with an open tractor in my younger years). But I hear griping everywhere about too many regulations. I agree people need to raise hell about it, but until someone does something about big money bribing politicians with their campaign contributions-thanks to the Supreme Court saying that corporations have more rights than people-nothing is going to improve. Look at who you vote for and what they stand for.

  • Randy Graven

    And most farmers try to be responsible..but when you’re paying 300 plus dollars an acre cash rent and the “crop consultant” from the co-op tells you you’re going to lose 15-20 bushels an acre if you don’t spray it’s a pretty hard decision. Going broke and losing your living is no fun,believe me

  • Amie Breuklander

    Don’t always believe what you hear!!!!!if you’ve never detasseled shut your mouth because you have no idea what goes on in the field they follow a very strick protocol for these situations. And hate to tell you some teens ARE lazy

    • Onna

      You are right on AMIE & MICHELLE..people need to get their facts straight and not just believe what ridiculous interview the guy gave. These kids are not credible either look where they came from-probably a bunch of pot smoking kids. If you TRULY thought you were ‘contaminated’ you would do EVERYTHING possible to get rid of the chemicals on you. Therefore, they weren’t harmed. They just want to cry wolf and make a big story that means nothing!

  • Michelle

    Lawsuits ??? Your delusional …they weren’t forced into the field after they left , they were offered decontamination and refused, and they refused to go back to work. No proof that they had any health issues to date so lazy kids and fifteen minutes of fame bus driver it is! I worked in the fields as a kid five years, my brothers all did heck even my mom , this is all good drama but no one is sick and a group of kids are learning to be lazy , whining , lawsuit happy, entitled employees….hope I never have to work with them ( they’d get fired from my employer as well) . Oh that goes for the “pot stirring ” bus driver as well!

      • Michelle

        Troy…do you know if the field being sprayed was worked by Monsanto so they had control over the timing of it being sprayed? Do you know how close the field being sprayed was to the one the kids were in? You do know that the workers were not sprayed on they could just see the plane and “smell” chemical . Living in Iowa like it or not there are a lot of smells that doesn’t mean you are “contaminated ” or “exposed” to something. I work with a chemical that says it causes cancer but not in exposure amounts we work with it so I can take another job or do mine safely not file a lawsuit.

      • Troy Hendrickson

        I know very well how little Monsanto actually cares for people, that’s good enough for me, but if you wish to defend a corporation with a history of sociopathic behavior, go for it.

  • Me

    Its seems to me there was a lack of communication somewhere in the chain of events. Did anybody read paragraph 3, and read up on the Worker Protection Standards before casting judgment on the company? The bus driver and the crew supervisor should been trained on the agricultural WPS (worker protection standards), by the company. If I read this correctly, the plane was already spraying the commercial corn adjacent to the field were the kids would be detasseling. The bus driver and supervisor let them off the bus to go into the field, even though they could see the plane spraying the adjacent field. In reality they should not have done this, they should have notified the company about the situation and have them resolve the issue before entering the field. In stead the bus driver and supervisor used poor judgment and let them proceed to the field while the plane was flying.

    Now, I agree with the kids all the way, they were put in a bad position, not by the company, but the supervisor and bus driver. But, the company should not have fired them either for trying to be safe. These situations are extremely delicate, unless you have all the facts, and its always best to error on the side of good judgment. Sounds like a lot of bad judgment on all sides, but the kids.

    • marcopolish

      “In stead the bus driver and supervisor used poor judgment and let them proceed to the field while the plane was flying.” That IS formally the company, through its formal representatives and agents, the supervisor and driver. The company is responsible for the driver’s and supervisor’s judgment, competence, attitude, vigilance, and apprehension of what risk means…in the situation where the potential risk (usually termed in cost in order to have a common unit with which to express various forms that risks take) is greater than the benefit to the company, the company employees (driver, if so engaged) and certainly the supervisor, are the company’s eyes and ears and agent responsible to (knowingly) implement the company’s will. I say “knowingly,” because if the supervisor does not know, that supervisor is now adding to the risk side, and detracting from the benefit side, of the operation. And you know what, that is true of ANY enterprise.

      • Me

        I would love to fully agree with you, but in most cases these are 3rd party companies paid by Monsanto. Monsanto is responsible for training on WPS standard, making the supervisor and bus driver aware of the dangers. They would also provide all of the safety supplies (PPE) and WPS info to the 3rd party. If a Monsanto employee was not present at the time they entered the field, it falls to the company (3rd party contractor) that made the decision, as they are trained prior to working.

        I am not saying its right, morally to me it would fall on Monsanto (and they should take the blame). Legally it resides on the 3rd party company (if in fact, they are a 3rd party).

        The farmer that had the airplane spray his field, probably didn’t know kids were going to be near his field that day. The pilot of the plane, didn’t see a bus or kids in the adjacent field before starting, and determined it was safe to spray. I bet both the pilot and the farmer fell terrible. There are 4 individual entities in this scenario, Farmer, Pilot, Detasseling Crew, and Monsanto. Communication breakdown or lack thereof, specifically on Monsanto’s part.

  • Lori

    My son detasseled on two different crews this summer. I am surprised the kids even had a break. The crews my son was on didn’t take breaks. Also, Monsanto is one of the biggest polluters in the world. They are legendary for poisoning the 3rd world.

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