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Jul-17-2001 Farmer Claims Pesticide Poisoned His Family

A Hardeman County farmer has sued the Southeastern Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation for $ 1 million, arguing its pesticide has poisoned his property and sickened his family.

In his lawsuit, John McKeen said he first began noticing problems after the program began operating last spring from the Hardeman County Airport next to his farm. He said his family has since suffered headaches from polluted well water, and his cattle have given birth to calves that had trouble gaining weight. One calf was born with a physical deformity.

The lakes and ponds on his property also have become rife with dead fish, McKeen said. His lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Jackson.

McKeen's attorney, Mike Weinman, said his client believes most of the damage has come from pesticide spills at the small Hardeman airport that have washed onto his land.

'We are asking the court to take adequate measures to protect against more losses,' Weinman said.

Parts of about 575,000 acres of West Tennessee cotton where boll weevils have been detected are being sprayed as part of a $ 100 million boll weevil eradication program operated by the Southeastern Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation.

The spraying has drawn criticism from people complaining of symptoms ranging from dizziness to diarrhea. The pesticide malathion, which attacks the nervous system, is being used.

Ron Seward, director of the boll weevil program in West Tennessee, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Foundation attorneys have not yet filed a response, and no trial date has been set.

Since the program began, health-related complaints have trickled in to local doctors, the state Department of Agriculture and the Southeastern Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation.

According to McKeen's lawsuit, the state Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture have tested his property and found elevated levels of malathion.

After later tests by the boll weevil foundation, McKeen was instructed not to drink the water from his well until further notice, he said.

Jay Harmon Inc., a crop-dusting contractor for the boll weevil program, also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

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