What is it like living right next to crop lands?
October 3, 2011 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever lived right up against crop land? How much did the crop dusting and spraying affect you?

We are considering buying a house that is smack in the middle of an ocean of crop land in eastern Washington. The crops are typically wheat, peas, and lentils, and they are subjected to crop dusting and sprays from truck-mounted chemical tanks.

I'm your classic organic-foods-buying, nontoxic-cleaning-products-using type of person. I also have an autoimmune condition that affects my respiratory system to a certain extent. Everyone I've asked around here says the spraying is no big deal, but I think they tend to be more of the mindset of "this is what farming families have done forever, you just seal up the house until it's over" and not particularly concerned with the health effects of having these chemicals drift over the lawn where your dogs play, etc. I absolutely adore this house and want it to be okay, but on the other hand, if it's not, I want to know now, as it's not so easy to unload a house around here.

So, please tell me of your experiences living very close to crop land. I'm interested in any aspect of it that you care to talk about. Thank you.
posted by HotToddy to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
Grew up near crop land in the UK, mostly arable wheat and corn with dairy cows in the field closest. I have hay fever triggered by grass pollen, and never had any reaction to spraying.
posted by arcticseal at 7:21 AM on October 3, 2011

Forgot to put this in my post--it's articles like this that have me a little freaked out.
posted by HotToddy at 7:22 AM on October 3, 2011

I've lived 20 feet from a conventionally farmed corn/soybean field for 25 years. In that time, it's only been crop-dusted once or twice, maybe three times--they only do it when there's a drought as a certain pest thrives in those conditions.

The first time they did it, they gave us no warning. My kids were playing in the backyard so we got them in pronto. I went upstairs and looked out the window to see the plane flying directly at me, a couple hundred yards away. Obviously, it pulled up in time, but I was on the phone to the airport within the minute, asking who it was and how to contact them.

I didn't get an answer, but that phone call apparently got back to someone, because that never happened again. We were warned the other couple of times.

As far as spraying from trucks or tractors, that happens regularly. That's mostly herbicides. It's in the farmer's interest to do it when there is as little wind as possible, since there's less waste that way. Like articseal, I suffered badly from hay fever for years but never had any reaction to the spraying.

The real answer to your question, though, is that it depends on your neighbors. The guy that owns the field next to me has always been relatively considerate (as long as it wasn't too costly for him). The guy that bought the field across the road is less considerate (possibly because he doesn't live nearby), and I will occasionally see him dragging the sprayer hell-for-leather across the field on a windy day. Fortunately, the prevailing wind blows from my side of the road to his. If your new neighbors are good people (and not in a financial bind) you should be fine. If not, you could be buying into a nightmare.
posted by bricoleur at 8:20 AM on October 3, 2011

Truck/tractor application is much more controlled than application from a plane, but there is typically some drift either way. Careful attention during application (i.e. don't apply when the wind blows) and rows of trees & shrubs can go a long way toward minimizing impacts to neighbors. Are there vegetated buffers between the house you like and the nearby application fields? Do those farmers have a reputation for being responsible in the community? Do they follow BMPs for spraying? Agricultural activities will also often have occasional odors associated with them (i.e. spreading of manure for fertilizer), so be prepared for that too. Additionally, most states have granted pretty wide clearances for environmental impacts associated with agriculture so, if there's a problem, you may find little legal ground to stand on.
posted by pappy at 8:23 AM on October 3, 2011

I am quite confident that there is no definitive or completely reassuring answer(s) as there are to many variables andto much uncertain science. If you tend to be substantially concerned or hyper-vigilant regarding your (families) health you must factor the attendant anxiety and uncertainty into your final decision. it would seem unfortunate to by a house you love only to have your contentment marred by low grade unresolved anxiety.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:27 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless you're going to be living next to organic farmers, you will be exposed to assorted chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, dust, and other such living next to cropland in the US. That's pretty much the long and short of it right there. I grew up living in the middle of crop and pasture-land in Missouri, and honestly, in 95% of the cases, farmers don't really acknowledge that the chemicals they're spraying might be harmful to people and or animals. (Unless those animals are animals they're raising, or the chemicals might adversely affect their own neighboring crops.)
If you've a low tolerance for potential exposure to these chemicals, I'd cut your losses and look elsewhere.
posted by jferg at 8:27 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also have an autoimmune condition that affects my respiratory system to a certain extent.

This jumped out at me. You might want to read this, which is about the effects of drift on workers and residents in California's Central Valley.
posted by rtha at 8:29 AM on October 3, 2011

Live next to a cotton field for long periods of time. Tons of cotton in the air during harvesting.
posted by 2legit2quit at 8:30 AM on October 3, 2011

I wouldn't, not even in the vicinity. I attended high school at one of the most pesticides-exposed in the nation. In our case, it was mostly strawberries, so the pesticides we're talking about could be entirely different (among ours was Methyl Bromide -- banned almost everywhere else in the western world). They didn't spray during school hours, but the toxic scent lingered, and if you came to school early or stayed late, say for a game, you were pretty directly exposed. My mother started a grassroots organization back then against the spraying, so it's pretty deeply engrained in me -- that pesticides companies (often Monsanto & co) drastically underestimate the dangers, and so do the farmers, and the people living in these neighborhoods, and even the EPA.

As far as effects, I've had high school friends & acquaintances with asthma, tumors, brain cancer, any number of things (we're all still in our twenties). But of course, you just can't know what's confirmation bias, and what's actually related to the poisons. Even if these pesticides don't end up harming you -- and again, you can't really know -- you'll wonder if every illness is related. It's not worth it. We're exposed to enough chemicals on a daily basis already.
posted by changeling at 8:32 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are several articles on this(one from Washington State) out there, but I'm not a medical professional and can't put them in context for you. The basic idea seems to be exposure to that stuff is bad but bricoleur's answer probably holds true. Depends on your neighbors and the prevailing winds.

Sounds like you will be exposed to some degree no matter what. Sorry I can't find more details on the specific health risks, did find this but can't find a free full-text. If you really care I can email you a pdf since I have it through my office library. Basically what jferg said.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:32 AM on October 3, 2011

*ingrained. or is it engrained? now I'm confused.
posted by changeling at 8:34 AM on October 3, 2011

I'm not sure about peas and lentils, but some crops SMELL on their own, regardless of what you spray on them (e.g., tomatoes and cucumbers). You'll also have to deal with trucks and tractors on the road. If this is a worry of yours, I wouldn't do it.
posted by yarly at 8:55 AM on October 3, 2011

I'm an exposure modeler, and we've briefly considered spray drift in our models. But it's not just crop dusting and drift, once the pesticides and herbicides get into the soil they will contaminate the soil on your property. These chemicals can be harsh and carcinogenic, especially for kids. As an adult, it's not as big of a deal, but I wouldn't feel comfortable having my young kids chronically exposed to that amount of chemicals over their entire childhood.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 10:02 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would be more concerned about water, if you're on a well.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 10:23 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might contact the local grange association for more information.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:34 AM on October 3, 2011

this is totally anecdotal, but in the 70s my folks used to live in a house surrounded by potato fields, and one night their beloved cat Max died a horrible death from organophosphate poisoning. remember that pets are smaller then you are, so it takes way less chemical to be a lethal dose.
posted by genmonster at 12:01 PM on October 3, 2011

You go to the trouble of seeking out food that has been grown without pesticides and you are considering moving next door to a farm that does crop dusting!?

Most of the deaths and injuries that are attributed to pesticides have been in farm workers and other people who have occupational exposure.

The amount of residual pesticide on, say, and apple is nothing compared to what you'll be exposed living next to a field with crop dusting.
posted by yohko at 12:39 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

You go to the trouble of seeking out food that has been grown without pesticides and you are considering moving next door to a farm that does crop dusting!?

I know, it sounds insane when you put it that way. If you've never been to this part of the world, there are two places to live: 1) in town, which, if you live smack in the center of it, puts you about 2.5 miles from the fields, or 2) out in the middle of the fields. Housing choices are limited. If you're looking for anything bigger than a 50' x 125' lot, you're most likely looking at living outside of town. Which is how we came to consider this house in the first place. But I believe I've come to my senses now. Thank you.
posted by HotToddy at 1:43 PM on October 3, 2011

Completely anecdotal but I used to pass through an agricultural town in Indiana twice a week. Agriculture wasn't the only industry there so I can't pin it on spraying but in the year that I spent passing through this town (pop. 6057) I learned of two cases of kids under 5 years old who had brain cancer.
posted by natteringnabob at 4:58 PM on October 3, 2011

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