McLEAN — About 60 farm workers, including several teenagers, were treated in rural McLean after being exposed to residual pesticide Tuesday morning.

The pesticide was sprayed Monday night and the workers "started to feel the effects" while they were in the field detasseling corn Tuesday morning, said Sgt. Don Gamble of the McLean County Sheriff's Department.

Eric Fulk, chief of the Mount Hope-Funks Grove Fire Department, said the workers "just entered the field too soon after pesticide was put on by aerial spray."

“They were starting to feel some skin irritations more than anything,” Fulk said.

The crews were then called in from the field and remained on buses while officials were notified.

At least some of those affected were contract workers of Monsanto.

“The safety of our contract workers is our number one priority,” said external affairs lead Sam Murphey. “As soon as crew members reported symptoms, the entire crew was instructed to leave the field, and decontamination started. Right now, our focus is on making sure the workers are okay and receive any care they need. We’ll be fully reviewing the situation in the coming days.”

The workers were decontaminated with soap and water at a tent sent up in a side yard of a nearby farmhouse. They were then transported to the McLean Christian Church and allowed to go home about 3 p.m.

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Several emergency departments including the Normal Fire Department, Bloomington Hazardous Materials Response Team, Bloomington Fire Department, McLean County Sheriff’s Department, Allin Township Fire Department, Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm Service, McLean Fire Department, Minier Fire Department and Danvers Fire Department all assisted at the scene.

Crews set up a command center at a farmhouse located near the intersection of McLean County Road 400 North and McLean Road, roughly between the towns of McLean and Armington and near the McLean/Logan county line. The sheriff's department was notified about 10:12 a.m. Tuesday, said Gamble.

Spokesmen for OSF St. Joseph Medical Center and Advocate BroMenn Medical Center said no patients had been transported to either hospital.

Tom Bielema, area director for the Peoria office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, declined comment about the incident when reached late Tuesday morning.

However, he said, the office typically responds to such situations in some way. The agency has up to six months to complete any investigation.

In July 2013, about 80 field workers were treated in Urbana after they were accidentally sprayed with fungicide from a crop-dusting plane near Pesotum, according to The Associated Press. In July 2011, two field workers were killed and two more injured when they were hit by an electrical shock from a field irrigation system near Tampico, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Detasseling involves removing tassels that grow on a corn plant, which forces cross-pollination. The steps involved include finding the tassel, pulling it off, and throwing it to the ground.

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Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle


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