|California Coalition for Workers Memorial Day|
Statement of Sandi Trend, Mother of Injured BioTech Worker, David Bell
Worker, David Bell Worker’s Memorial Day Rally held in the City of Davis, California April 27, 2008
I would like to say that it is a pleasure to be here today, although the reason for my speaking is not about anything that can be defined as pleasurable. My name is Sandi Trend and I am the mother of, like so many of you that are here, and injured worker. It wasn’t until my son started on the labyrinth road of lies, deceit, fraud and concealment of a biotechnology company here in Davis, an industry that my son had so heartedly believed in became sick (and continues to be sick), could I have ever imagined what a nightmare so many of you have gone through. I’m sorry for all of you the injured worker and the people who love them.
I now know that what my son has said to me, “Mom, no one cares,” seems to be true. I am here today to tell you all. In the State of California (and all other states where their is a broken worker’s compensation system), everyone behind this unjust system who has forgotten, or chooses to ignore the value of even one single life, and especially those employers who hide under the umbrella of protection within the worker’s compensation system so that past, present and future employees as well as the public are never made aware of your misdeeds...
There is someone who cares – and you will not get away with this.
When you have beaten down, and injured worker who went to work everyday not to get injured, get sick or die, but only wanted to be a contributing member of society, to give something back to the world and make it a better place ...There is someone who cares – and you will not get away with this. When you have stolen an injured worker’s ability to make a living and forced them to merely exist with the help from federal and state agencies, families and friends, there is someone who cares – and you will not get away with this…when you have destroyed not only the injured worker but their families. There is someone who cares – and you will not get away with this. When an injured worker or the families of an injured worker who have become injured, became sick and have even died, have lost their voice because of you… Let me tell you, there is still someone who cares, and we will not go away, and you will not get away with this.
And forced them to merely exist with the help from federal and state agencies, families and friends, there is someone who cares – and you will not get away with this… When you have destroyed not only the injured worker but also their families… there is someone who cares – and you will not get away with this. When an inured worker or the families of an injured worker who have become injured, became sick and have even died, have lost hteir voice because of you… Let me tell you, there is still someone who cares and we will not go away, and you will not get away with this.
I would like to address, not only everyone who is here today, but the City of Davis and its residence as well. And I hope, with everything that is in me, you will take heed to what I am saying. My son, who was 1 semester shy from getting his Bachelor of Science degree with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry took a temporary full-time position that was offered him from the biotechnology company, Agraquest Inc. as an Assistant Researcher in this City in 1998. He began his employment while the company was still located in an “office park” in a residential neighborhood. The address was 1105 Kennedy Place, Suite 4, which sits on the corner of Kennedy Place and J. Street.
As Agraquest states:
“AgraQuest is a biotechnology company that focuses on discovering, developing, manufacturing and marketing effective, safe and environmentally friendly natural pest management products for the agricultural, institutional and home markets.” Agraquest’s founder is Pam Marrone, who was formerly from Monsanto. While at Monsanto she led its Insect Biotechnology group. She gave an answer to a question posed to her, QUOTE: “Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative” Pam Marrone listed that she “founded two “pure” biotech companies, Entotech and AgraQuest”. Agraquest started in 1995.
Pam Marrone also said, QUOTE: “was founding president and business unit head for Entotech, Inc. (1990-1995) in Davis, (QUOTE: “a successful biopesticide subsidiary of Denmark-based Novo Nordisk.” Pam Marrone has been in the biotechnology arena for a very long time now. The reason I am bringing this up to Davis and it’s residents is I doubt very much that you were even aware of what was and no doubt is still going on in this city.
I have brought with me today presentations for your viewing. As you can see I have given “excerpts” of some of Agraquest’s (Pam Marrone and others in the company) Interviews and articles about them or with them. It is very plain to see, and they have openly boasted they have “searched the world over” in their search for the “novel” microorganism. They also say they use “microbe hunters” and “They’ll check out new samples of soils or plant roots or lichens arriving from across the globe, hoping that one eventually will lead to the next breakthrough natural, environmentally safe pesticide or fungicide.”(In the article, “AgraQuest Growing its Own Success”; from the Sacramento Bee, dated August 11, 1997). This is just a couple of examples I am now pointing out.
First of all, an office park in a residential neighborhood, is NOT an area where the possibility exists that it could contain known pathogens, let alone the UNKNOWN. I am not sure what Bio Safety Level a research lab that brings in soil from other countries, such as Agraquest should have, but I am quite sure that Agraquest did not have a Bio Safety Level above 2, if they had that. There was much discussion in the city of Davis about bringing in a Level 3 or Level 4 lab as it was opposed by it’s residents. There was a fear of what microorganisms could be in such a lab in the City and the risks associated with it. We have all heard the word ANTHRAX. ANTHRAX comes from soil and as is stated in numerous articles, Agraquest does indeed “search soil samples” for the ”novel” microorganism.
Not only does Agraquest want to “discover” a new bacteria or fungus, they also test their discoveries on plant diseases such as fungus and bacteria. I have also shown in the presentation, documented relationship to these bacteria and fungus as being human health hazards. Five months and 9 days after my son started working for Agraquest, after a workday, he ended up at Immediate Care Medical Clinic with bloody pus draining from his nose and the left side of his face and teeth had become numb and 16 days later he ended up having the first of four sinus surgeries, the last surgery was in 2006. My son has never regained his health, in fact, more and more of his body has been affected as a result of working for Agraquest.
I have also shown in my presentation, bacteria and fungus that have been found in my son, either in his blood, sputum cultures and levels of positive to HIGH POSITIVE in IgG tests, showing that he had a very high level of exposure to these microorganisms.
David’s immune system had been jeopardized and for 3 years, every 28 days, he was hooked up for approximately 7 hours each to an IV pump and received immunoglobulin infusions (like those who receive chemotherapy) because his body had stopped producing enough B-cells and he no longer had an intact immune system. Each and every time he had an IV infusion, he had violent reactions to these treatments. To this day, his immune system levels are all over the place. For the last, going on 10 years now, my son has been living in a nightmare of hell with respect to his health. I am absolutely terrified just what they are going to find in my son, if they ever do as what the medical community is telling him now is that it is inconclusive, they don’t know what he has, they can’t identify it. He has said “they will never find out Mom until I am on an autopsy table.” I have lived my life in a state of fear since David worked for Agraquest. And it is pretty sad when his daughter asks her Mother, “What was Daddy like before he got sick?”
Pam Marrone has said, “We’re doing a lot of interesting things here that are cutting edge. They haven’t been done before.” To this, I say, “Who made you God”? Agraquest searches for the “novel” microorganism to fight plant disease and insect control. Who is to say that there isn’t going to be a crisis because of mutations of bacteria and fungus that is allowed to be put on our food crops as well as food for livestock? What becomes of the soil when it is being invaded with genetically engineered or modified microorganisms? Why are eradicated diseases now coming back causing illness, disease and death? And a very important question is why does the industry only have to show in their patents and products “the active” ingredient? The Ag-Biotechnology industry says they are trying to go “natural” and get away from the use of chemicals completely, however, when you look at their patents it clearly shows they use chemicals and/or other microorganisms or both. Just what is being put on our food and spayed on us for insect control? Why do we, the citizens of the United States not have the right-to- know? I also find if questionable why my son’s project, (Laginex which had already cleared by the United States Patent office and the Environmental Protection Agency BEFORE he was hired at Agraquest) was allowed to be altered in any way. My son was to find a viable agent to extend the shelf life of Laginex and still it was allowed to be sprayed for mosquito control. Is the biotech industry allowed to do what it wants at will? Some serious questions need to be raised and answered. You’ll notice I have pictures of the location where David worked at Agraquest when he got sick, 1105 Kennedy Place. The reason for these pictures is to show the city of Davis and it’s residents why I am not only speaking to the injured workers who are here, but you need to see what I am talking about.
There is a picture of the corner of J Street and Kennedy and a picture of the building’s “directory”. Agraquest was in #4. I have also shown a “drain”, as Agraquest called it. You will notice that the “drain” is merely a hollowing out in the concrete and you will also see on the other picture where the drain leads... directly onto the ground. My son, while he was still in this building, had been instructed to pick up a “drum” (or barrel) from an offsite farm where Agraquest tested some of their products or inventions. When he picked the “drum” up it still had some “liquid” in it. When he asked what he was to do with it he was told to clean it out so it could be reused for fermentation broth. He was instructed to clean it out and dump it down the “drain”. He asked it it was safe, and like everything else he inquired about, he was told “yes”. He said it had the word “Germany” on it and letters and numbers. My friend and I went to Davis one day (August 2006) because I wanted to see where this drain he had talked about was, as my son said that he was told to dump everything there and it was outside. I didn’t find a drain, not anything that would resemble any kind of drain I had ever seen. I took pictures and sent them to my son to see if this is the drain he was talking about. My son said “yes”. I was appalled because where this drain dumps is directly onto the ground and right across the street from apartments that are on J Street. I asked him if this so called drain had been jackhammered out when he worked at Agraquest and he said “No”. Not far from the end of the drain is something for “irrigation” (the picture is one the presentation board). On this board you will also see some pictures of a dead crow, faucet, and pipe. My friend pointed this out to me. It looks like the crow had been drinking from the drip (faucet) and died. There is “something” (greens, yellows, tans, and orange colored ) that is under the pipe. I don’t know what it is nor how long it had been there, all I know it is pretty frightening. My son said he thinks that the drip might have been coming from the air conditioner condensation line. Two weeks later I returned with Doug Haney and the crow was still there. Like the first time, the crow showed no signs of decomposing nor were there any bugs nor flying insects around.
This faucet is on the same wall that Agraquest’s lab was located. I have since been back to 1105 Kennedy Place and there is a new concrete wall, next to the concrete walkway. From the original outside wall of the building to the new wall is what I would call a flower bed as it has been filled in with dirt. There is now a new faucet on the added wall.
So residents of Davis, I believe you should be asking some questions. I have contacted an investigator at the Yolo County District Attorney’s office and he has said he had turned it over to someone in an environmental agency. I don’t know what has been found out. I have also contacted Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey and tried to speak with Congressman
Dan Lundgren at a town-hall meeting. Shortly thereafter, I was granted a meeting with some of his staff, however I was unable to attend and Doug Haney attended this meeting. He addressed some very serious concerns, one being Home Land Security as dirt or soil had been brought in illegally from, I believe South America by Agraquest. My son said this was around the time of the Mad Cow scare. We haven’t heard back from Lundgren’s office.
Like so many injured workers, my son’s illness and disease has been denied, although everything that he has gone through and is still going though can be traced back to his employment at Agraquest. In 2003, as a result of a blood test done by the Mayo Clinic, it was found my son showed a positive titer to histo-yeast. The fungus, histoplasma capsulatum causes histoplasmosis, which can be a very serious and often fatal disease in humans. Denise Manker, one of the founding scientists of Agraquest, has denied histoplasma ever being at Agraquest.
She has gone so far as to say she believes it comes from bat or bird droppings. However, she along with three other Agraquest scientists started signing away their interest on a patent and they were listed as four of the “inventors” on this patent. This was on January 22 though January 26, just 4 days after my son first sought emergency medical treatment. It was also found that Pam Marrone was named as “first named inventor”. Whether my son’s positive blood result is connected to this patent we don’t know, but it is known that this fungus is found in soil, and Agraquest “searches” soil Denise Manker also testified, under oath before the Workers Compensation Judge, that Agraquest had received only one citation from CAL/OSHA and it was for one fume hood. She denied Agraquest ever being cited other than the one time. Manker also said she is the one that worked with CAL/OSHA on inspection findings that were done by the agency. Agraquest did not receive only one citation from CAL/OSHA but two that I know of. These are shown on the presentation board. One citation was for “several illegal chemical fume hoods” and the other in 2003 listed many violations. Manker lied on the witness stand, however the Judge found her testimony more credible than David’s Qualified Medical Examiner who said “By the description of Mr. Bell, it is not surprising that he could have been exposed to histoplassma in the contaminated “microfoci” as described by Gorbach et al. The risk of a laboratory worker in contracting histoplasmosis is actually well recognized by the Center of Disease Control, which has published a monograph “Histoplasmosis Protect Workers at Risk.... He goes on further stating other articles, which say the same thing. David’s Qualified Medical Examiner also said he believes David’s exposure to Bacillus Subtilis instigated his first sinus surgery in 1999. Again his opinion was not even a consideration. Why then do we have Qualified Medical Examiner’s in the first place?
There is a long list of unethical behaviors being committed by the Workers Compensation System as well. During my son’s Workers Compensation Trial my son was denied submission of additional evidence, although he was told during a prior hearing he could if there was new evidence. He was now facing another sinus surgery... this was new.
David was denied, like so many injured workers, the right to compensation. The Judge in fact had 10 years prior worked for a law firm that represented the defense insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual. My son had never seen this Judge before the actual trial, he was not given the opportunity to oppose her, as the defense had done to one of his Judges, nor did she recuse herself because of her prior connections to Liberty Mutual. I was also listed as a “witness” but I was not allowed by the Judge to even take the stand.
Agraquest listed the wrong insurance carrier on my son’s Workers Compensation claim in 2003. Because of a subpoena of my son’s employee file in 2004 (requested in writing to an Agraquest attorney citing Federal and state law, which was ignored) my son found that Agraquest themselves had received the denial letter and did nothing to correct the “error”. This denial letter was found in the subpoenaed records. My son had to find out himself who the correct insurance carrier by calling the Insurance Rating Bureau in San Francisco. The correct carrier, Golden Eagle/Liberty Mutual denied the claim, 285 days after my son sent it by registered mail to Agraquest. The LAW says that a claim is compensatable if it is not denied within 90 days however, this was allowed to be ignored in the Workers Compensation system even to through the appeal process.
Agraquest not only violated their duty as an employer to protect the safety of their employees, they also concealed the fact that my son had gotten sick because of workplace exposures. They made people believe that he was a “threat to the company and it’s employees” by sending a memo to “All Agraquesters” saying such. They went so far as to say “the Davis Police Department will be called and better to be safe”. An ex-coworker of my son had even sought a restraining order against him. This was at the instigation of the company. The request was denied.
Agraquest could not afford the truth coming out that David’s illness was a result of working for them. They were in the process of registering with the EPA on their Bacillus Subtilis QST 713. Interestingly, Agraquest was only given a “Conditional Time-Limeted” registration for up to 2 years by the EPA as they themselves found fault and had questions. However, this product was still allowed to be used in the agricultural arena.
It is mandated by both Federal and State of California law that knowledge of an adverse health effect from a pesticide (biological included) MUST BE REPORTED. This was never done. Had my son’s illness, before his first sinus surgery been report it would have caused much harm for Agraquest in many areas. This is total concealment. My son’s life has been changed forever, because he wanted to make a difference in the world. like so many hard working citizens. His life has no doubt been shortened considerably.
It is time to put a stop to the nonsense and fight for the rights of the injured worker. And the City of Davis, its residents need to know what has taken place in their city. I am not sure if any of them have been sick because of Agraquest, but my son is proof of their lack of safety standards, not to mention everything else. Steve Zeltzer said, “This will not go away” and I can tell you, “I will not go away”, and until my last dying breath I am going to fight for change. The corruption has to stop, from the bad employer who has no Conscience what-so-ever to an unjust Workers Compensation System.