A San Diego County agency says pesticides were misused on a hemp farm in Encinitas, but the impact to residents’ health is not expected.

San Diego County says pesticides were misused on Encinitas hemp farm, no impact to residents’ health

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Environmental authorities found no proof that pesticides used on an Encinitas hemp farm harmed the health of nearby homeowners, but the hemp farm operator was abusing chemicals, according to an inquiry triggered by the neighbors’ concerns.

After neighbors complained about nausea, dizziness, and respiratory difficulties for months, San Diego County launched an inquiry.

The county discovered hemp farm operator Cultivaris Hemp utilized unregistered goods and kept poor pesticide records in the inquiry, which was revealed in November. However, it was also determined that the infractions had nothing to do with the health concerns. These breaches, according to the government, are not prevalent.

Cultivaris Hemp is facing a fine or a warning letter from the county’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures, which enforces pesticide restrictions.

After the state designated the probe as a priority investigation involving the well-being of at least five persons, the department forwarded it to the district attorney, as is customary process. Regardless of the conclusion, the state might label an inquiry as a priority. The District Attorney’s Office’s Environmental Protection Unit might prosecute or send the case back to the department.

Josh Schneider, CEO of Cultivaris Hemp, said he was relieved to put the incident mostly behind him now that the inquiry had concluded in his favor.

Schneider, who operated the hemp farm at veteran flower farm Fox Point Farms until July, said, “We performed the best job that we could and felt we were complying with the law at every stage.”

“It really appears to me that everything that transpired was unintentional, even according to the county report.” 

Joe Williams, a 30-year resident of the Fox Point Farms neighborhood, said he’s glad the county found some violations at the hemp farm, but he believes the county would have reached a different conclusion about the farm’s activities and the neighbors’ health issues if the investigation had begun sooner.

“I believe the inquiry could’ve gone a little farther,” he added, “but I’m not sure what more they could’ve come up with.” “I’m simply relieved that it’s finished.”

He claims that there haven’t been any new issues in the area in the recent several months.

The conflict that erupted in Encinitas between a hemp farm and its neighbors is an illustration of the challenges that might occur as the hemp and cannabis businesses flourish in San Diego County. Although the county boasts the second-highest number of hemp producers in the state, it is subject to little regulation.

Meanwhile, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is drafting legislation to allow for the legal cultivation and sale of cannabis.

Residents blame the hemp farm for their health issues, while farmers lay it up to a dislike of the stench.

Neighbors began contacting a dozen local, state, and federal health agencies and environmental authorities in October of last year.

Officials first attributed the complaints to an odor problem, which they said they couldn’t address since agriculture, including hemp growing, is exempt from odor-related public nuisance legislation. According to the county’s findings, three departments were examined. And, with the exception of failing to get an operator identity number in order to buy and apply pesticides for industrial hemp growing, the farm was deemed to be in compliance with all relevant legislation. After the breach was discovered, the farm made the necessary changes.

After learning from CalEPA, the state’s environmental protection agency, that one neighbor had reported being diagnosed with pesticide exposure to an enforcement officer with the state’s environmental protection agency, the county initiated a fresh pesticide inquiry in April. 

Following the launch of the investigation, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates pesticides, copied Cultivaris Hemp in a letter to ProKure Solutions, a chemical company that creates chlorine dioxide-based products to prevent mold, bacteria, and other pathogens for use in a variety of commercial, residential, and medical settings. The environmental authority was worried that Cultivaris Hemp was abusing ProKure products at the hemp farm, which were not licensed as pesticides. 

Because it includes chlorine dioxide, which kills odor-causing bacteria, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation determined that gas deodorizer ProKure D, the major product in issue utilized by Cultivaris Hemp to alleviate the hemp odor, should be registered as a pesticide. ProKure Solutions has been requested by the department to register the product.

Requests for information on the investigation and whether ProKure D has been registered as a pesticide went unanswered by ProKure.

Cultivaris Hemp was also deemed noncompliant for utilizing two additional ProKure products for study without permission. Schneider said that the business no longer utilizes ProKure Solutions products. 

Because of a lack of medical proof, the county’s inquiry established no link between the neighbors’ health complaints and the farm’s usage of pesticides. 

During a visit to the hospital emergency department, one of my neighbors was diagnosed with pesticide exposure. This individual informed environmental officials of the diagnosis, prompting a more thorough county investigation that included samples, interviews, and inspections.

However, that diagnosis was insufficient to prove a relationship between the pesticides and the neighbors’ health problems, and the county attempted to get further health data from the neighbors without success, according to the report. 

According to the county, none of the 16 complainants who were identified provided medical documents that indicated adverse exposure. 

One of the neighbors, Williams, claimed he didn’t share his data because of his skepticism of the county after months of back-and-forth on the subject prior to the probe. 

“Why would I trust someone who is likely to have a conflict of interest?” he wondered. “That’s all there is to it.” 

Some residents are still pressing the county for additional information. 

In an email to the county agriculture commissioner, David Dekker, who also lives in the area, said the county should have done more to examine wind direction and other meteorological parameters around the time when residents complained of illness. 

The county looked at monthly wind patterns and weather patterns around the time one neighbor was diagnosed with pesticide exposure in April and when HAZMAT was summoned in May. The investigation discovered that the wind usually blows from the east, away from the farm, and towards the neighborhood, which is located west of the farm. 

Schneider said that wind from the east sometimes rushes through the farm entrance, tunneling toward the neighbors, so they piled plastic bulb boxes there to slow it down. Dekker said he wanted the county to pay closer attention to wind and other weather elements in the days preceding up to the county’s sample on May 11. 

Even though the situation was stressful, Bob Echter, a second-generation flower farmer who owned the property where the hemp farm and his family’s flower farm were located, said he understood why the neighbors were worried.

Echter, whose family owned and ran Fox Point Farms in Encinitas for decades, remarked, “You know, I have to acknowledge that the neighbors, most of them, don’t understand farming.”

“I understand the agricultural scenario, and I have to accept that they don’t, so that may cause some anxiety on their part since they are unaware of my side of the story.”

The investigation, according to Encinitas city councilmember Tony Kranz, whose district includes the farm, answers the question of whether the pesticides harmed neighbors, but it leaves open the question of how hemp and cannabis farms should be regulated and whether more restrictions should be placed on them. 

That’s because certain policy difficulties only emerge after they’ve been implemented, and the city is presently implementing Measure H, a new legislation that will enable cannabis retail, cultivation, product production, and distribution.

“At the very least, we’ve gotten to the stage where the problem of causality has been addressed,” Kranz said.

“However, it doesn’t really give the type of answers that the community is looking for.” As a result, it’s unclear where this will end up.”

Neighbors have pressed local authorities to consider expanding setbacks in the future to avoid farms from establishing themselves so near to residential areas. Officials warned them, however, that under Measure H, which voters would have to amend at the polls, they couldn’t impose any more impediments. 

Echter is staying on the land for the time being, running his own flower farm. He’s started moving parts of his business to Mexico and his warehouses to Carlsbad. Fox Point Farms is currently owned by a development business with plans to build the city’s new residential agricultural community, a concept that had been in the works before the hemp farm concerns surfaced.

Cultivaris Hemp’s activities have now been relocated to Vista by Schneider. He said he doesn’t expect to have comparable issues there, but that what occurred in Encinitas would serve as a learning lesson for the future. 

Since the hemp activities halted, Echter and Schneider say they haven’t heard from their neighbors. 

“There are obstacles to work through at the start of every new sector — educational components to manage with the public and policymakers,” Schneider said.

“I’m trying to look at this as a learning experience and a normal part of the growing pains of a new sector,” she says.

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