Daily News Archive
From October 25, 2001

California Pesticide Use Declines for Second Year in a Row, Major Pesticide Problems Remain

Pesticide reform advocates reacted with cautious optimism to new pesticide use reporting data for 2000 released by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) yesterday, showing a substantial decrease in many categories of reported pesticide use.

"The data do indeed show that overall pesticide use appears to be decreasing, most notably in the categories of carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxicants and neurotoxins," said Susan Kegley, PhD, Staff Scientist for Pesticide Action Network. "It appears that public pressure, proactive farmers, concerns over surface water contamination and implementation of the federal Food Quality Protection Act are finally beginning to make a difference."

One example of this trend is the continuing decrease in use of cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides (a category of nerve toxins)-evidence that substantial reductions in pesticide use can be achieved if the political will and the support for growers are in place. Two major factors have driven the decline in use of this type of pesticides:

1) Implementation of the Federal Food Quality Protection Act is removing some of these pesticides from use directly and has put the writing on the wall for many of the others. Many growers are actively looking for alternatives to these pesticides and are finding them among the less hazardous biopesticides like Bt, spinosad and insect attractant pheromones that disrupt the mating process for pest insects.

2) Concerns over surface water contamination have brought DPR, the state and regional water boards, grower groups and commodity boards, UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Community Alliance with Family Farmers and other sustainable agriculture groups together to work out better ways to control pests that don't require use of these neurotoxic pesticides.

Despite declining pesticide use in many categories, some areas of use are on the increase, and regulatory action to control exposures is weak or missing altogether. Amounts of groundwater contaminating pesticides increased, as did the number of acres treated with these pesticides. Groundwater contaminant pesticides are those that have been found repeatedly in California groundwater. Unfortunately, a program that could prevent groundwater contamination is in limbo at DPR. New proposed regulations that would create Ground Water Protection Areas (areas in which the type of soil increases the likelihood of groundwater contamination) in the state have been awaiting finalization at DPR, yet no action has occurred in this arena for over 2 years.

Another problem is the use of fumigants. The high toxicity of these gaseous pesticides, combined with their tendency to drift off-site and their very high application rates (100-400 pounds per acre) make these pesticides among the most hazardous used in the state. Although substantial declines were reported in use of the soil fumigants metam sodium and methyl bromide, by 4 million pounds and 5 million pounds, respectively, two major problems with the fumigant pesticides persist:

1) DPR monitoring of methyl bromide in air carried out that year showed that concentrations of the chemical in air exceeded levels classified as "safe" by DPR for subchronic (8 weeks) exposure periods. This means that to protect public health, methyl bromide use must be even more drastically reduced, and only the complete ban now scheduled for 2005 can fully protect Californians from this toxic fumigant.

2) The use of substitute fumigant pesticides, including Telone (1,3-dichloropropene), chloropicrin, and metam potassium, is on the rise, suggesting that some growers are simply reaching for equally hazardous replacement chemicals rather than developing more sustainable and less toxic alternatives.

"Sustainable and organic agricultural methods are clearly the wave of the future," said Kelly Campbell, campaign coordinator for Californians for Pesticide Reform. "We urge the state and the federal government to create regulations, incentives and resources that reward farmers who adopt these methods and continue to push for pesticide use reduction."