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Daily News Blog

13
Oct

California Regulators Allow an Increase in Toxic Fumigant Use, Failing to Protect Public and Farmworker Health

(Beyond Pesticides, October 13, 2016) Last week, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) released new rules that allow for continued use of the toxic fumigant Telone and reduce public health protection by permitting increased usage. One of the active ingredients in the product Telone,  1,3-Dicholorpropene (1,3-D), has many documented health risks, including cancer and kidney and liver damage. While CDPR and many news outlets reported the rule change as a tightening of the restrictions, the new rules effectively increase the previous annual cap from 90,250 pounds to 136,000 pounds per township, a defined area of 6×6 miles.

cdprAccording to CDPR documents, the primary revisions include: increasing the annual limit to 136,000 pounds within each pesticide township, eliminating “rollover” of unused pesticide allotments from prior years, and banning use of Telone in December, when weather conditions are especially problematic for air pollution. These new rules, which go into effect January 1, will allow for 1,3-D’s continued use in strawberry fields, vineyards, almond orchards, and other crops around California.

CDPR has been characterizing  its changes in management of 1,3-D as increasingly protective of public health in the state. In making these revisions to the rules, CDPR completed an updated risk assessment to determine the annual use limit of 1,3-D that would still maintain a minimal risk of cancer to humans. The risk assessment failed to consider synergistic effects and does not adhere to the standard of “one-in-a million risk of cancer from life-long exposure” recommended by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which ultimately enabled the increase in the annual limit of 1,3-D in crop production.

1,3-D is a federally restricted use soil fumigant, used to kill nematodes, insects, and weeds that has strong links to cancer and other serious health issues. The use of the chemical in the production of strawberries came into prominence with the forced reduction of another fumigant, methyl bromide. Scientists became concerned about methyl bromide in the 1970’s, when it was linked to serious effects on the ozone and was blamed for between 5 and 10 percent of ozone depletion. Methyl bromide is still widely used in California to grow strawberries, despite its ban under the Montreal Protocol, but it will no longer be eligible for a critical use exemption after 2016. This phasing out of methyl bromide gave rise to a new class of fumigants, which included 1,3-D, the chemical in Telone.

Telone was also the subject of a recent University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study that found mixtures of pesticides to be more harmful than individual pesticides. The report, titled Exposure and Interaction — The Potential Health Impacts of Using Multiple Pesticides: A Case Study of Three Commonly Used Fumigants, was published by the Sustainable Technology and Policy Program, based in the UCLA School of Law and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. The case study looked at three commonly used fumigants — chloropicrin, Telone, and metam salts, and found that:

  • These pesticides may interact to increase the health risk for California farm workers and residents,
  • Workers and residents are regularly exposed to two or more of these pesticides simultaneously, and
  • DPR does not regulate the application of multiple pesticides to prevent or decrease risks to human health, despite having authority to do so.

Additionally, in late September, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) filed a lawsuit against Dow Agrosciences LLC, Telone’s manufacturer, charging that the “chemical manufacturing giant” fails to warn communities across California about the dangers associated with wide use of the chemical Telone. The case focuses on the air pollution caused by the pesticide, as it has been found to linger in the air for multiple days after application, disproportionately impacting the rural communities, often with large minority populations, that live in the immediate vicinity. The case was filed in the State of California Alameda County Superior Court, and Dow has yet to comment or release a statement addressing the allegations against the company.

This lawsuit, reports like the Dark Side of Strawberries, and other documented hazards associated with fumigants and crop production emphasize the need to shift away from dependency on toxic chemicals and seek sustainable, organic solutions to food production and feeding families. There are less toxic ways to grow the crops that have relied on these toxic fumigants for decades that can create healthier soils and improve pollination success.

Ultimately, advocates maintain that what is needed to protect community health is a transition away from toxic pesticides toward agricultural practices that  promote soil and ecosystem health,  plant  resilience and organic compatible materials, which eliminate the need for toxic chemicals. A wide variety of alternative practices and products are available to assist growers in preventing pest problems before they start. Organic agriculture, which requires farmers to improve soil health and craft an organic system plan to guide pest control decisions, represents a viable path forward for agriculture in California and beyond.

Source: Los Angeles Times

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

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