(Beyond Pesticides, April 24, 2009) The California Department of Pesticide Regulation this week finalized looser pesticide rules that will allow more emissions from soil fumigant pesticides. Environmental activists are alarmed that this new ruling will only serve to slow efforts to clean the smoggy air in California’s Central Valley.
This regulatory action revises the total pesticide emission benchmarks in the Sacramento Metro, San Joaquin Valley, South Coast, Southeast Desert, and Ventura areas. The ruling is a victory for chemical-intensive farmers, who fear that stricter limits would force some growers to stop using pesticides. Pesticides, especially soil fumigants, which are injected into soil to kill pests by releasing toxic gases, contribute to about 6% of the smog problem in the Valley, according to state figures. According to the state’s Department of Pesticides Regulation, the looser limit will still “meet our obligation to reduce pesticide emissions, but do so in a way that avoids placing an unreasonable or disproportionate burden on fumigant pesticide users.” For the San Joaquin Valley for example, the rule sets the emissions limit at 18.1 tons per day, 2.1 tons higher than what activists wanted. The regulations cover the prime growing season of May 1 though October 31 and cover smog-making gases, called volatile organic compounds, emitted by many pesticides, especially fumigants.
However, Alegría De La Cruz, an attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment said that the department “claims that this is not a big deal because it’s such a small amount, but this, from our perspective, is not making good on a promise that they made to Valley residents to protect [their] health.” The center is considering filing a lawsuit to change the rules.
In 2006, a federal judge ruled that the pesticide department ignored clean-air laws and ordered regulations that would cut pesticide emissions in the valley by 20% from 1991 levels. But in August, the department won an appeal to overturn the ruling. The new regulations call for a smaller decrease — a 12% cut from 1990 levels. Other regions still face a 20% cutback, the department said. The rules became an issue during state budget negotiations earlier this year when Republican lawmakers sought to write the looser rules into law, which would have made it harder for environmentalists to pursue a change. However, these lawmakers backed off. The department is now turning its attention to nonfumigant pesticides. Those regulations must be in place by 2014, according to law.
According to state reports, pesticide use declined in California for the period 2006-2007. The use of fumigants decreased by 0.8 percent, but acres treated increased by 1,235 acres, or 0.3 percent. Researchers have found that fumigants, such as sulfuryl fluoride, stay in the atmosphere at least 30-40 years and perhaps as long as 100 years and is about 4,000 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat. Others like methyl bromide, deplete ozone and is under an international phase-out under the Montreal Protocol, which the U.S. continues to ignore. Last July, EPA proposed new rules for soil fumigants which fell short of protecting people, workers and the environment.
Source: Fresno Bee