TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ At least 100,000 people who claim they suffered health problems because of exposure to the pesticide malathion are part of a lawsuit against the substance's manufacturer.

The class-action suit was filed against Cheminova Inc., of Wayne, N.J., on Friday in U.S. district court. The lawsuit claims the company improperly handled and stored the chemical, which was spayed in 1997 and 1998 in several Florida counties, including Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota.

Malathion is used to eradicate the fruit-eating Medfly.

An estimated 1 million people lived and worked in the spray zone, and some complained of sinus congestion, headaches and respiratory problems.

Those suing the company say they were exposed to contaminated batches of malathion. They are seeking unspecified damages to pay for past and future medical bills, property damages and other expenses.

``I hope this ends the use of malathion,'' said Kathy Rink of Sarasota, one of the plaintiffs named in the class action suit. ``I hope this sends the message that they can't come and poison us.''

Cheminova officials had no immediate comment.

The suit asserts that malathion was stored above recommended temperatures, causing the pesticide to break down into its highly toxic components, malaoxon and isomalathion.

It accused the company of knowing about the danger, and also entrusting handling and storage of the chemical to unqualified people.