As a child, Kim Allen would watch the crop-dusting airplanes buzz low over west Valley cotton fields, leaving clouds of pesticides in their wake. This did not alarm her. To any kid growing up in the homes on tracts of land skirting the west-side farming regions, crop dusters were simply a fact of life.

Kim Allen liked the fields so much, in fact, that after she grew up and became a mother of four and a housewife, she and her husband moved to a subdivision near 91st Avenue and Northern. Right close by was an egg ranch, and, of course, fields of alfalfa and cotton. Once again, Allen would gaze out her window at crop dusters--these days, often helicopters--spraying the sensitive cotton with pesticides, killing off pink boll worms and white flies that could destroy an entire year's crop.

In all her 34 years, Allen says, she had never gotten sick from the spraying.
She had never gotten sick, that is, until 10:30 p.m. on August 4, when she heard a helicopter buzzing crazily overhead. Wondering why a helicopter would fly so late at night, Kim Allen walked into her backyard to take a look. (Usually," she says, "they fly in the daytime.)

It was a crop-dusting helicopter all right, and it was "all over the place," darting up and down, flying over houses.

She figured that the helicopter was trying to spray the neighboring cotton field, but what happened next suggests that the helicopter may have sprayed Kim Allen instead. Suddenly, she smelled and tasted something she'd never smelled or tasted before. Something chemical. Her chest tightened, she felt short of breath, and her lungs felt as if they'd been seared by a blowtorch.

The next day, she felt no better. So she went to Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital for tests. According to Allen, the results indicate that she'd been poisoned by something that had affected her nervous system.

Allen informed officials at the Arizona Department of Agriculture, the agency charged with regulating crop dusters. That day, department investigator Afam Ugbor took samples from Allen's trees and yard, as well as from the nearby cotton field. Because the investigation is not expected to conclude for another week or so, Ugbor would not comment about the results of the samples he took.

On the advice of her doctor, who was alarmed by the results of the hospital tests, Allen visited a Phoenix toxicologist five days after the spraying incident.

Once again a number of tests were taken, she says. The toxicologist, however, told Allen he can't make a diagnosis until he finds out the results of the agriculture department's tests.

Another toxicologist in the same office suggested that Allen's symptoms might be a result of stress. Allen angrily recalls that made her "feel like I was losing my mind."

Saying she still has breathing problems, Kim Allen remains convinced she was sprayed by an errant crop duster. As she awaits the results of the agriculture department's tests, she says, she feels exasperated, especially because she never has considered herself an alarmist about crop-dusting. "It's not like I'm from another state," she says. "It's not like I've never seen crop-dusting before.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Terry Greene