Some MTA bus drivers claim illness from routine pesticide spraying


Bus driver Frank Portillo says he got so sick from years of inhaling fumes from pesticides sprayed on MTA buses that he just could not work any longer. After 23 years on the job he retired three months ago.

Portillo is one of 110 MTA drivers who signed a petition calling for an end to pesticide-spraying on buses.

Portillo says he suffers severe headaches, uncontrollable shakes, nausea and vomiting. He says before retiring he wrote numerous letters to MTA officials telling them doctors ordered him to stay clear of any pesticide fumes. But he claims he was told to just keep driving. He says he is afraid to tell his family how sick he is.

"Their daddy is very sick, and I don't know where I'll be in a year or two," said Portillo.

"We follow all the Cal-OSHA requirements. We go well beyond the manufacturer's requirements. The buses are sprayed once every three months," said MTA Spokesman Marc Littman.

Cal-OSHA is investigating the safety of the chemicals used to spray the buses. MTA officials say with more people riding and eating on buses, they have to deal with a serious bug problem.

"If we didn't spray, we'd have an insect infestation," said Littman. "The same pesticides that we're using are low-grade. You get the same ingredients at Home Depot. They're used for schools, for hospitals."

Attorney Diana Sparagna says she has filed workers compensation claims for sick MTA drivers. Sparagna says she is not ruling out a class-action lawsuit.

"I have 25 cases where I have legitimate complaints," said Sparanga.

"We act on their complaints," said Littman. "But it hasn't been proven that it's actually pesticides."

One former MTA driver says she suffers from severe breathing problems associated with what she believes are years of exposure to pesticide fumes on the buses.

"My hope is that everything is changed as far as the way that they're spraying these buses," said the driver, who wanted her identity shielded.

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