(Beyond Pesticides, September 30, 2013) A new report, published by UCLA’s Sustainable Technology and Policy Program, finds that the California Department of Pesticides Registration (DPR) has failed to ensure that pesticides it approves are safe. Using methyl iodide as a case study, researchers point to key deficits in the approval process and make recommendations for improvements.
Methyl iodide was used as a fumigant to control pests on strawberries, despite its threats to human health. It (i) causes miscarriages, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer, (ii) is neurotoxic, causing psychiatric symptoms and movement disorders similar to Parkinson’s disease, and (iii) is a developmental toxin that impairs fetal development.
The fumigant was designed as a substitute for methyl bromide, which is slated for phase-out by 2015 as an ozone-depleting chemical under the Montreal Protocol. In the formulation, methyl iodide was combined with another fumigant, chloropicrin, to control for pests and approved for use by California DPR on December 2010, despite severe human health risks presented by scientists and substantial outcry by environmental and farmworker organizations.
The report, entitled “Risk and Decision: Evaluating Pesticide Approval in California,” examines the effectiveness of DPR in registering pesticides. Most importantly, the report highlights the flawed risk assessment approach which is designed to take into account multiple and cumulative risks facing human health. The short-comings include:
- Failure to consider safer chemical and non-chemical alternatives to the fumigant;
- Inadequate consideration of data regarding development neurotoxicity, neurotoxicity, groundwater contamination and methyl iodide emission from farm fields;
- Reliance on faulty assumptions for estimating farmworker exposure to the fumigant;
- Disregard for the cumulative exposures to both methyl iodide and chloropicrin; and
- Selection of risk values that exceeded staff recommendations by a factor of 100, which provided totally inadequate safety measures.
Researchers drew upon reports, letters, hearing transcripts, and internal DPR memos to demonstrate the scientific, social, and legal dimensions of pesticide regulation in California. In addition to identifying DPR’s failures, the report also provides recommendations that would better safeguard human health, including:
- Proper consideration of context to determine exposure levels;
- Performance of cumulative risk assessments which considers all active ingredients as well as vulnerable populations;
- Identification of data gaps and development of mandatory testing procedures;
- Proactive engagement of stakeholders such as farmworkers, environmentalists and local community members for the registration process; and
- Identification and evaluation of chemical and non-chemical alternatives as part of the registration decision.
“Pesticide regulation in California is flawed,” said UCLA School of Law professor Timothy Malloy, PhD., a faculty director of the Sustainable Technology and Policy Program and one of the report’s authors. “Until we find safer alternatives to chemical pesticides, it is extremely important that the evaluation of new pesticides is thorough. If consumers, workers and the environment are to be protected from the adverse effects of pesticides, the approval process needs to be based on comprehensive data, objective evaluation and meaningful participation of all relevant parties.”
In March 2012, the manufacturer, Arsta Life Science North America, voluntarily removed methyl iodide products from the market, preempting an impending ruling by an Alameda County Superior Court judge which found that regulators broke state law in approving the use of methyl iodide.
The report echoes recent findings by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which determined that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s use of conditional pesticide registrations is inadequate. It also adds to the body of knowledge that the risk mitigation process is inherently flawed because it authorizes an allowable level of harm, despite the availability of safer practices or products.
Consumers can do their part to support these alternative methods of agricultural production by buying USDA certified organic foods. In fact, the only way to know that you are not being exposed to hazardous soil fumigants is to buy organic. Beyond Pesticides advocates for the national conversion to organic systems planning, which moves chemicals off the market quickly and replaces them with green management practices. To learn more about organic agriculture please visit Beyond Pesticides organic agriculture page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides
Source: UCLA News