California Considering Approval of Neurotoxic Pesticide for Strawberry Farming


Posted on 18 June 2010

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By Traci Sheehan
Planning and Conservation League

Need an ironclad reason to buy organic strawberries? California has one for you: methyl iodide. The chemical is a drift-prone fumigant that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved in 2007, primarily to replace methyl bromide, which is being phased out under the Montreal Protocol because of its ozone depleting properties and its toxicity. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) plans to approve the use of methyl iodide to sterilize soil for strawberry crops as the alternative to methyl bromide.   

What's the problem? Methyl iodide is a highly toxic carcinogen that the EPA approved over the objections of more than fifty scientists, including five Nobel laureates in chemistry. Chemists have historically used the carcinogen to induce cancer in lab tissue, according to scientist Susan Kegley of the Pesticide Action Network of North America. Human toxicity experts from the Hazardous Substances Data Bank at the National Institute of Heath state that the chemical "acts as a poison attacking the skin, eyes and the [central nervous system] via inhalation, ingestion, eye and skin contact."

It's also mutagenic, meaning it causes chromosomal and DNA alternations. The DRP's own panel of scientists and an independent peer review reported grave concerns over the use of methyl iodide in any scenario, particularly before the effects on human neurological health are better understood.  

Nevertheless, the DPR is set to approve the carcinogenic pesticide by the end of June. That would be bad news for all of us, but especially for California's farm workers, agricultural communities, children and elderly.  

DPR is taking public comments prior to making its final decision, so you have a chance to make your voice heard on this important issue. The comment period ends June 29, 2010.

Comments may be sent to:
Pesticide Registration Branch,
Department of Pesticide Regulation,
P.O. Box 4015, Sacramento, CA 95812.  
E-mail: mei_comments@cdpr.ca.gov.

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Traci Sheehan is the Executive Director of The Planning and Conservation League, a statewide, nonprofit lobbying organization. For more than thirty years, PCL has fought to develop a body of environmental laws in California that is the best in the United States.