(Beyond Pesticides, October 28, 2009) Transcripts released last week from an external peer review panel convened in September to evaluate California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) risk assessment of the fumigant methyl iodide show that the panel’s leading scientists have serious concerns about this chemical. Methyl iodide is currently being considered for use on California’s crops, especially strawberries.
The scientific panel held a public workshop, entitled “Methyl Iodide External Peer Review Panel Workshop,” on September 24-25, 2009 in Sacramento, CA as part of an additional, external peer review for methyl iodide. Previously planned public and scientific review processes were subject to cancellation or postponement by the Governor’s office. Led by John Froines, Ph.D., director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of California, Los Angles, the panel consisted of eight experts in various scientific fields. The scientists expressed concern over inadequate buffer zones, ground water contamination and drinking water exposures, body burden, neuro-degeneration, reproductive toxicity and carcinogenicity that are associated with methyl iodide use and exposures. Panel members also challenged EPA’s assessment and found EPA’s scientific conclusions on methyl iodide to be lacking. The transcripts and other workshop presentations are available here. These concerns underscore previous opposition to the use of methyl iodide, including a letter from a group of over 50 of the nation’s most eminent scientists, including five Nobel Laureates that raised serious objections to EPA’s approval of the product.
DPR’s draft methyl iodide risk assessment has already undergone peer review by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If registered as a soil fumigant, methyl iodide would be applied primarily in California’s strawberry fields before planting, and as a gas it would drift away from the application site, and expose neighboring residents and farmworkers in nearby fields. Methyl iodide is a threat to air and water supplies and has been linked to very serious illnesses, including cancer, miscarriages, thyroid toxicity, and neurological problems.
In 2007, EPA fast-tracked the registration of methyl iodide (a Proposition 65 carcinogen in California) for use as a soil fumigant, despite serious scientific concerns. State legislators also signed a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger urging to keep the controversial pesticide out of California’s strawberry fields. The health concerns associated with methyl iodide suggest the need for continued exploration of safer alternatives, according to advocates. The University of California Cooperative Extension has already experimented with alternatives to pesticide use, including steam and heat. Other alternatives include organic practices which have shown that crops, like strawberries, can be grown organically.