(Beyond Pesticides, December 4, 2007) On November 29, 2007, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) reported 2006 pesticide use statistics that showed continued progress toward less pesticide use statewide. However, strawberry growers increased their reliance the highly toxic, ozone depleting fumigant methyl bromide.
Overall statewide pesticide use declined by nearly six million pounds from 2005 to 2006 (from 195.3 million to 189.6 million). While use increased in landscape maintenance, public health and other categories, production agriculture saw a 10 million pound drop.
Use of many high-toxicity chemicals, including carcinogens, neurotoxic pesticides and chemicals linked to reproductive effects dropped for the third consecutive year. “DPR works hard to promote least-toxic pest management, and our efforts are paying off,” said DPR director Mary-Ann Warmerdam. “At the same time, we will continue to strive for long-term success in pest management, and we have more work to do.”
On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times reports that state strawberry growers, primarily around Oxnard and in the Salinas and Watsonville areas, applied fumigants to 5,000 more acres, using 132 more tons of the chemicals than in the previous year. That is a 9% increase in acreage treated and a 3% increase in tonnage.
Methyl bromide is injected into the soil at rates of 100-400 pounds per acre to kill soil-borne organisms. Because of the high application rates and gaseous nature of these chemicals, they drift away from the application site to poison neighbors and farmworkers. EPA’s analysis evaluated possible buffer zones around fields and concluded that bystander exposure would not be significant. It said farmworkers could protect themselves sufficiently with respirators.
The Montreal Protocol, a 1992 commitment by the world’s nations that includes the phase out methyl bromide – one of the five deadly pesticides targeted by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers – gave hope that farmworkers and others would finally stop being put at risk by this deadly pesticide. Unfortunately, EPA is not only backpedaling on this, but approved methyl iodide, a carcinogenic fumigant that may be even more hazardous to human health than methyl bromide, as its replacement. In EPA-reviewed lab studies, methyl iodide causes thyroid tumors, changes in thyroid hormone levels- which are closely tied to metabolic disorders, respiratory tract lesions, neurological effects, and miscarriages.
Fresno County applied the most pesticides, followed by Kern, Tulare, San Joaquin, and Madera.
DPR analysts note that pesticide use varies from year to year based on many factors, including types of crops, economics, acreage planted, and weather conditions. Even under similar conditions, pest problems may vary. For example, cool wet spring weather often prompts increased use of sulfur and other fungicides, as was the case in 2005. But similar weather conditions in 2006 did not produce as much vineyard disease in most areas, so wine grape growers actually used less sulfur. Total pesticide use in wine grapes dropped by about 8.5 million pounds.
Take Action: Contribute to a pesticide use reduction in your community by pledging your property pesticide-free and sign the Declaration on the Use of Toxic Lawn Chemicals. Learn more about organic land care on Beyond Pesticides’ lawns and landscapes page.