(Sept. 19) State departments of agriculture in Idaho and Oregon are investigating allegations that some growers illegally used a pesticide on this year’s onion crop.

“We don’t know if it’s happening,” said Wayne Hoffman, special assistant to the director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. “Right now we have a rumor, and we’re following up on that rumor.”

In late August an Environmental Protection Agency employee reported to agencies in both states that a story was circulating about some growers were using carbofuran.

Carbofuran, which is manufactured to control thrips under the brand name Furadan, is used on potatoes, sugar beats, alfalfa and other crops but has not been approved by the EPA for use on onions.

Hoffman said Idaho growers could face fines of up to $3,000 per violation.

Bruce Pokarney, director of communications for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said growers there could be fined up to $1,000 per violation.

“We don’t have a grower or a field to look at,” Hoffman said. “We have rumors — unsubstantiated allegations — but they’re serious enough to convince the agencies and associations involved to do additional sampling and have additional vigilance.”

Candi Fitch, executive director of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee and the Idaho-Oregon Fruit & Vegetable Association, both based in Parma, Idaho, said shippers agreed to a voluntary one-day shutdown Sept. 8 while a testing protocol was put in place.

Hoffman said shippers from both states had submitted samples from fields and packing sheds to state and private labs and that all tests had been negative for carbofuran as of Sept. 12.

Hoffman said the state agencies were handling the investigation and that the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration were being updated on the situation.

Hoffman also said it was unclear if onions treated with the pesticide would pose a public health issue.

Troy Seward, general manager and sales manager of Golden West LLC, Nyssa, Ore., said Golden West started its harvest in mid-August and likely would wrap up in mid-October. He said the crop was below average in volume because a wet spring delayed plantings, and the summer heat wave hindered the plants.