(Beyond Pesticides, May 4, 2010) On April 30, 2010, despite significant cancer and reproductive health risk, especially to farmworkers and people living near agricultural fields, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) proposed the use of a new and highly toxic pesticide, methyl iodide, for widespread agricultural use in California. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered methyl iodide in 2007 as a replacement for the ozone-depleting pesticide, methyl bromide. Environmental and public health advocates believe that blocking methyl iodide registration in California will prevent its use elsewhere, since the state will account for the vast majority usage and profitability nationwide. Public comments may be sent to [email protected].
If registered, methyl iodide will be used primarily to fumigate and sterilize the California’s strawberry fields, although the pesticide will also be used in nurseries and nut tree production. DPR’s proposal does not require neighbor notification before use of this extremely toxic chemical.
As evidenced by California’s thriving organic industry, alternatives to fumigants exist and are in use in California. In a hearing on February 8, 2010, before the California Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture, two panels of California growers and researchers discussed a number of safe and effective alternatives to methyl iodide. These methods include solarization, anaerobic soil disinfestation, crop rotation, biological controls, selective breeding, soil steaming, hydroponics, and steam treatment for containerized plants.
“Why are we risking our children’s lives when alternatives to methyl iodide are already being used successfully to grow strawberries?” said Marilyn Lynds, resident of Moss Landing. “With this decision, the Department of Pesticide Regulation has put communities in harm’s way. With increasing levels of cancer all around us, why would DPR put one more dangerous carcinogen into the air””especially one scientists consider difficult, if not impossible, to control.”
A panel of internationally-renowned scientists convened by DPR, which conducted a formal review of the chemical during 2009—2010, concluded in its report that due to the high toxicity of methyl iodide any agricultural use “would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health,” adding that, “Adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”
“Under this proposal, fieldworkers near fumigation sites would have significant risk for miscarriages and nervous system effects,” explains Anne Katten, a pesticide and worker safety specialist at California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.
Further, a group of over 50 eminent scientists, including five Nobel Laureates, sent a letter of concern to EPA about methyl iodide explaining, “Because of methyl iodide’s high volatility and water solubility, broad use of this chemical in agriculture will guarantee substantial releases to air, surface waters and groundwater, and will result in exposures for many people. In addition to the potential for increased cancer incidence, EPA’s own evaluation of the chemical also indicates that methyl iodide causes thyroid toxicity, permanent neurological damage, and fetal losses in experimental animals.” The letter concludes, “It is astonishing that the Office of Pesticide Programs is working to legalize broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment.”
DPR says it will impose more comprehensive controls on methyl iodide than EPA or any other state, including: larger buffer zones around all applications; a minimum of a half—mile buffer around schools, hospitals, nursing homes and similar sites; reduced application rates and acreage that can be treated; and, application limits to protect groundwater. Opponents do not think these steps go far enough to protect the public.
Dr. Susan Kegley, chemist and consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network North America, commented, “If DPR’s decision holds, in addition to increased thyroid disease and more cancers generally, scientific evidence predicts we will see a leap in late-term miscarriages for pregnant women who live or work near methyl iodide applications. We want them to reconsider this decision immediately.”
The pesticide is promoted by the largest privately-held pesticide company in the world, Arysta LifeScience. Arysta has invested significant resources in lobbying and a communications campaign within the state to secure registration in one of the most lucrative markets in the nation.
Advocates say that Californians have been clear that they do not want the carcinogenic pesticide approved for use in the state, and that there are safer, cleaner and more viable ways to grow strawberries. Opposition has measured in the thousands, and includes farmworkers, mothers, doctors and nurses, victims of pesticide poisoning and residents of rural communities.
On April 12, 2010, environmental, public health, labor and farmworker advocacy organizations from across the country filed a petition asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rescind the Bush administration era approval of methyl iodide in light of troubling new findings uncovered in California studies.
Paul Towers of Pesticide Watch said, “DPR should take these forty-five days to truly review and reconsider its approval of a known carcinogen and miscarriage-inducing pesticide. In 2010 we should be moving towards green solutions that are safe for our communities, not backtracking by adding new poisons to the arsenal.”
Take Action: Tell the California Department of Pesticide Regulation that the risks posed by methyl iodide are too great and, as proof by the state’s thriving organic market, alternatives exist. Comments are due June 14, 2010, by e-mail to [email protected], or to Pesticide Registration Branch, Department of Pesticide Regulation, P.O. Box 4015, Sacramento, California 95812-4015.
Support organic farming and protect farmers, farmworkers, and their families and neighbors from toxic chemicals. Organic agriculture does not allow the use toxic chemicals that have been shown to cause a myriad of chronic health effects, such as cancer, endocrine disruption and a series of degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease. For more information of the many benefits of organic food, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food program page.