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Crop-dusting at mega-farm disturbs Aiken County school

Spray from a large vegetable farm’s crop-dusting plane sent at least one child home from an elementary school Wednesday in Aiken County and caused some youngsters to be moved into other classrooms, school officials said.

The material, being applied by Walther Farms, drifted and settled near the Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School about midday, causing a noticeable odor, said Aiken County Public School District nursing supervisor Monica Mazzell.

No injuries were reported, but a child with pre-existing respiratory problems left to see a doctor, Mazzell said. The child later was found not to have any health problems related to the spraying, she said. The material being sprayed by the plane was fertilizer, as well as a fungicide, Mazzell said.

Attempts to reach Jeremy Walther, who oversees farming operations in the area, were unsuccessful Wednesday night. Attempts to reach company executive Jason Walther also were unsuccessful.

Mazzell and Shawn Foster, chief of operations at the school district, said Walther Farms told the district it would no longer spray crop fields during school hours.

Mazzell said the crop-dusting incident was the first she was aware of in the area. Parents were notified about the incident and told that precautions were taken at the school, Foster and Mazzell said. As a precaution Wednesday, several classrooms were closed and the children moved to other rooms after the smell became noticeable. At least one kindergarten class was among those in which children were moved.

The Walther company, as well as another agribusiness, has acquired nearly 10,000 acres in the upper Edisto River basin in the past four years and opened mega vegetable farms. The mega-farms have stirred complaints from residents over the land-use change, but Walther has said it’s trying to be a good neighbor.

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