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From June 1, 2006                                                                                                        

California Seeks To Reduce Air-Polluting Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, June 1, 2006) The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is launching a major initiative to reduce the use of smog-causing pesticides. California’s DPR has asked manufacturers to begin reformulating more than 700 pesticides and plans to impose stricter rules on the use of soil fumigants as early as next year. Soil fumigants, by weight, account for about one-quarter of all pesticide applied to crops in California. This initiative would establish the only pesticide air pollution standards in the nation.

Most pesticides contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which become a key component of ozone after they have evaporated from fields. California has some of the unhealthiest smog conditions in the United States and ozone is its most abundant air pollutant. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “Pesticides are responsible for 27 tons per day of the region's [the San Joaquin Valley] smog-forming fumes — only about 7% of its total but enough to rank among the top five sources. In Ventura County, pesticides create about 8 tons per day, almost all from fumigants used on strawberry fields.”

While California’s smog plans have long included plans of reducing fumes from pesticide use, it is not until now that the DPR has gotten involved. The DPR is an important actor as it controls what pesticides are legal in California and how they are used.

In response to a lawsuit filed by a public interest group, a federal judge ruled in April that California must cut pesticide emissions 20% by 2008. The DPR has appealed the ruling, but the director, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, has decided to push this new initiative anyway. The agency claims that the initiative will eventually go beyond the court order as farm as improving air quality.

The state initiative plans to reduce pesticide emissions by at least 20% by placing more stringent controls on fumigants. This is expected to have a large impact because fumigants are responsible for about 50% of the pesticide emissions in the San Joaquin Valley.

Fumigants, which are gases that contain high concentrations of smog-forming compounds, are injected into the soil before planting. Although the ground is covered during fumigation there is a common problem of seepage that leads to the large impact on air pollution. Some of the major offenders, such as methyl bromide, metam sodium and chloropicrin, have been identified, among other things, as neurological and reproductive toxins and mutagens.

The DPR plans to adopt regulations by the end of 2007 that require growers to either control their fumigant emissions through new technologies or reduce the amount used. The details will be figured out in workshops conducted this August.

The state also has begun to review the VOC content of hundreds of non-fumigant pesticides and has sent orders requiring reformulations to manufacturers. Those that cannot meet the reduction goal will could be subject to bans.

While many people support the initiative, some foresee troubles ahead. Bill Magavern, senior representative of Sierra Club California, worries that some chemical companies and growers will be resistant to using safer techniques and products. He also notes that, “The real solution is substituting less toxic alternatives.”

TAKE ACTION: Write to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and let them know that you support the reduction of pesticide use. Show your support and remind them that there are safer and better alternatives, and that the best alternative is not using toxic pesticides at all.