August 30, 2014

EPA slaps two Norfolk companies with big fines

Two pesticide companies with common ownership based in Norfolk have agreed to pay nearly $75,000 in penalties for the production and distribution of unregistered and misbranded pesticides.

Custom Feed Services Corporation will pay a penalty of $55,752. Earthworks Health LLC will pay $18,761.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture inspected the two businesses on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency in November of 2011 after the EPA received a tip.

An investigation determine that Custom Feed Services sold copper sulfate and diatomaceous earth pesticide products not registered with the EPA, and that the company lacked valid EPA registration numbers and production establishment numbers. In addition, Custom Feed Services produced the pesticide products in a facility that was not registered with the EPA as a pesticide-producing facility in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

The EPA says that on multiple occasions, Earthworks Health sold or distributed unregistered and misbranded copper sulfate and diatomaceous earth pesticides, in addition to an unregistered antibacterial product, Foaming DisposALL Drain Cleaner.

Custom Feed Services and Earthworks Health have now certified they are now in compliance with FIFRA.

Hastings couple killed in traffic crash

A Hastings couple has been killed in a traffic wreck in Clay County.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office reports 53-year-old Gary Isom and his 52-year-old wife, Susan, died early Thursday morning when a semi tractor-trailer hit their sports utility vehicle.

Gary Isom was driving east on U.S. 6. The truck was traveling south on Nebraska 14.

The sheriff’s office reports the truck didn’t stop at a stop sign and struck the SUV.

The couple was pronounced dead at the scene. A teen-age son and a daughter in her 20s have been taken to a hospital in Lincoln for treatment of injuries suffered in the crash.

The driver of the semi has been arrested.

State Fair puts Nebraska agriculture’s importance on display

Governor Dave Heineman says the State Fair plays an important role in reminding Nebraskans about the importance of agriculture to the state.

Heineman says more than a quarter of the state economy depends on agriculture.

“As I’ve said before, more and more Nebraskans are a generation or two removed from the farm or ranch. So, these types of experiences are increasingly important,” Heineman says.

A new exhibit at the State Fair attempts to fill in the gap for consumers who don’t have that direct knowledge of the farm.

The Raising Nebraska exhibit in the Nebraska Building features 25,000 square feet of interactive displays which answer questions from consumers and demonstrate how the raw products of the farm and the feedlot become food for the kitchen table or gas for the car.

The University of Nebraska, the Department of Agriculture, commodity groups, and agribusinesses sponsor the Raising Nebraska exhibit.

Even as consumers learn more about the importance of agriculture, state officials are working to expand the agricultural economy.

They recently entertained English and German business executives who are considering increasing their purchase of Nebraska beef and other products.

State Agriculture Director Greg Ibach says one English customer first visited Nebraska five years ago, after receiving Nebraska beef for his London restaurant, Goodman. He returns annually with members of his staff to buy even more Nebraska beef.

“That’s just part of the ongoing good story of what’s going on across the world, but specifically in Europe where we’ve seen our exports to Europe have grown over 200% in the last five years,” according to Ibach. “So, we’re really excited about the opportunities that communicating with customers around the world provide.”

State officials say Nebraska beef exports to Europe have grown from $41 million in 2009 to more than $132 million last year.

Ibach says the state livestock industry also has seen expansion in the swine and dairy industries. Crop production in corn, soybean, dried beans, and sugar beets continue to grow.

We enter Labor Day weekend with 5 lakes under health alerts

Nebraska enters the last big weekend of the summer with five lakes under health alerts.

State officials today issued alerts for toxic blue-green algae for Big Indian Creek Lake in Gage County and Kirkman’s Cove in Richardson County. Alerts continue at Bluestem Lake in Lancaster County, Iron Horse Trail Lake in Pawnee County, and Willow Creek Lake in Pierce County.

Alerts for two lakes have ended. Both Oliver Lake in Kimball County and Swan Creek Lake 5A in Saline County have recorded two consecutive weeks of samples below health alert thresholds.

State officials say samples taken from the lakes this week indicated the five lakes were above the state’s health alert threshold of 20 parts per billion (ppb) of total microcystin (a toxin released by certain strains of blue-green algae.) Lakes remain on health alert until they register two consecutive weeks of reading below the threshold.

Swimming beaches will be closed at the lakes as long as the health alerts remain in effect. Recreational boating and fishing are permitted. The public is advised not to ingest the water and not to dive into the water.

Camping, picnics, and other outdoor activities are not affected.

Sampling results for toxic algae and bacteria will be updated every Friday and posted on NDEQ’s web site,

For more information about potential health effects of toxic blue-green algae, what to look for, and steps to avoid exposure, please refer to the Fact Sheet.

Supreme Court strikes down cigar bar exemption to smoking ban

cigar_smokeAn Omaha billiards hall has lost its fight against the state indoor smoking ban.

The Nebraska Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the law even as it ruled the legislature cannot carve out an exemption from the indoor smoking ban for cigar bars and tobacco retail outlets. It let stand an exemption for hotel guest rooms.

In an opinion written by Justice Kenneth Stephan, the court ruled there is no justification for treating cigar bars or stores which sell tobacco differently from other public places.

The Unicameral approved the Nebraska Clean Indoor Act during the 2008 legislative session. It prohibited smoking at the workplace or in public, exempting hotel guestrooms, areas used for tobacco research, and tobacco stores. The exemption for cigar bars was added in 2009, authorzing a business which received at least 10% of its revenue from cigar sales, had a humidor, and didn’t allow cigarette smoking to allow smoking.

Big John’s Billiards fought the smoking ban from its beginning. The court ruled Big John’s has no inherent right to allow its customers to smoke and the legislature could act to regulate and even prohibit smoking in its establishment.

The court ruled the exemptions granted to cigar bars and tobacco stores were unconstitutional special legislation.

The court ruled guestrooms could be exempt, because they are akin to private residences.

Click here to read the Supreme Court ruling.