(Beyond Pesticides, June 28, 2010) A new report documents high levels of pesticide drift in the California community of Sisquoc. Poison Gases in the Field: Pesticides put California families in danger, released by Pesticide Action Network North America and local community members, presents results of community air monitoring for fumigant pesticides in the central coast area of California, in Santa Barbara County. Using a simple monitoring device called the Drift Catcher, community members measured levels of a fumigant pesticide above the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) “level of concern” — even when all application rules were followed and no equipment failure occurred.
“While we were monitoring the air, there were no violations of the County’s permit – and yet we found we were still breathing chloropicrin at high levels,” says Deby DeWeese, one of the community members who collected air samples. “Clearly the rules and regulations do not protect our families.”
The Sisquoc monitoring, conducted during and after a soil fumigation in April 2008, found the pesticide chloropicrin in about half of the 57 air samples collected. Two samples had chloropicrin levels higher than DPR’s 24-hour level of concern for children, and the 19-day average level at one sampling site exceeded DPR’s level of concern for multiday exposure. Average levels over the 19-day period were 23 to 151 times higher than acceptable cancer risks.
“What’s striking about these results is what they imply about fumigation in general,” says PANNA Staff Scientist Karl Tupper. “Sisquoc is not unique in terms of how close fumigated fields are to people’s homes. The application we monitored was typical as well””there were no blunders and the amount of chloropicrin used was not abnormally high.”
“So if this is happening in Sisquoc, it’s surely happening in other California communities, and it will certainly happen with methyl iodide if it’s registered,” concludes Mr. Tupper.
California regulators are currently proposing to allow the use of a new, extremely volatile fumigant pesticide””methyl iodide. The proposal comes despite findings of DPR’s own Scientific Review Committee, whose experts reported in February that any agricultural use of methyl iodide would be harmful to public health. The proposal is open for public comment until June 29th.
Fumigant pesticides are used to sterilize soil prior to planting. After sulfur and crop oil, more fumigants are applied in California than any other pesticide, about 35 million pounds per year in California. “Sustainable farming is all about building healthy soil,” says organic farmer Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm. “I’ve been growing strawberries for 25 years, and fumigant pesticides are the last thing I’d put in my soil.”
Fumigants are highly volatile, making them prone to drift. Health effects linked to exposure can include headaches, vomiting, severe lung irritation, and neurological effects. Some fumigants are linked to cancer, reduced fertility, birth defects and higher rates of miscarriage.
“The situation in Sisquoc illustrates exactly why the use of methyl iodide must not be allowed. Accidents happen. Rules aren’t always enforced. And even when soil fumigation goes smoothly, bystanders still end up breathing toxic chemicals,” says PAN Executive Director Kathryn Gilje.
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 29, 2010, by e-mail to email@example.com, 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 on organic versus conventional agricultural practices, see Beyond Pesticides’ new guide, Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience, urging consumers to consider impacts on the environment, farmworker and farm families’ health —in addition to personal health impacts posed by pesticide residues— when making food choices.