Gregory Eric Zolnier treated two silos used for feed at Geisel Park Stud in WA’s South West with a pesticide that required a 10 to 14 day fumigation period. However, despite the warnings on the pesticide, Zolnier told management at the farm that the silos, which were used to store feed for the horses, could be used the immediately. Fourteen horses died the next day after eating food stored in the silos.
On July 14, 2014, Magistrate Malcome Fisher accepted a guilty plea from Zolnier, noting that he had pled guilty “at the earliest possible convenience.” The State Solicitor’s Office had charged Zolnier with acting as a pesticide technician without a license, not using a registered pesticide in accordance with the label and not keeping or using pesticides safely. There was testimony that the actions of Zolnier were reckless and, despite his guilty plea, the penalty should be severe enough to send a message to the industry. Magistrate Fisher ordered Zolnier to pay a $5,000 fine and $780 in court costs for his actions.
According to the Grains Research & Development Corporation, grain silo pesticides can be dangerous and instructions must be closely followed when treating grains or their storage containers. Ben White with the grain storage extension project at the GRDC says that some pesticides, including phosphine are often misused by farmers and that the GRDC is working with the industry to improve standards and practices. Phosphine is a commonly used pesticide for the control of weevils. One issue with the use of the nerve gas is that grain absorbs the chemical’s distinctive scent, making it difficult to detect even when there are dangerous levels of the pesticide in the grain, which is why airing out silos for 10 to 14 days is recommended.
In addition to the horse deaths, there have been three people killed by phosphine inhalation in the United States over the past year, further indicating a need for better controls of the substance. If you or a loved one has been affected by improperly used pesticides, contact a qualified solicitor to determine if legal action may be warranted.