Evidence from Florida Indicates Strawberry Pesticide May Contaminate Groundwater

For Immediate Release


Paul Towers, Pesticide Watch
Tracey Brieger, Californians for Pesticide Reform

Evidence from Florida Indicates Strawberry Pesticide May Contaminate Groundwater

Study shows chemical levels in water pose threats for children

SAN FRANCISCO - Confirming concerns that the
controversial toxic strawberry pesticide methyl iodide could contaminate
groundwater if used in agricultural fields, new evidence from Florida shows one
of the pesticide’s breakdown products present in groundwater at levels
that pose threats to children. Air monitoring demonstrated the presence of the
parent methyl iodide at levels far exceeding those that many scientists deem
even marginally safe. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR)
is currently considering whether or not to approve the strawberry pesticide for
widespread use in California in the coming weeks.

As a condition for registering the pesticide in Florida,
Arysta LifeScience—methyl iodide manufacturer and the largest privately
held pesticide company in the world—was obligated to conduct air and
groundwater monitoring after field applications in the state. Consultants hired
by Arysta to conduct monitoring recently revealed in their report that iodide,
a breakdown product of the pesticide, was found in Florida groundwater near a
field fumigated in 2008 and 2009 at levels that ranged from 0.12 to 0.15 mg/L,
substantially above typical levels of iodide in fresh water or sea water. The
results cast serious doubt on growers’ ability to use methyl iodide
without contaminating groundwater.

The levels of iodide found in Florida groundwater exceeded
levels considered safe for children. Children drinking water with this level of
iodide contamination could receive 1.2 times the tolerable upper limit of
iodide exposure defined by the Centers for Disease Control and the National
Academy of Sciences of 0.20 mg/day. Excess iodide exposure is associated with
pre- and post-natal developmental toxicity and autoimmune thyroid disease, and
possibly impairment of childhood cognition and postpartum depression. Healthy
children with no iodine deficiency are assumed to be getting the recommended
daily intake (RDI) amount in their diets on a daily basis. Any added iodide
from contaminated groundwater would be on top of normal dietary iodide and
would result in exceeding the 0.20 mg/day standard.

The findings affirm a California
Regional Water Resources Control Board – Central Coast Region letter
written earlier this year, citing concerns of proposed groundwater

We are opposed to registering
Methyl Iodide as a fumigant given it is a known carcinogen, neurotoxin, and
thyroid disruptor, has ability to cause spontaneous abortion late in pregnancy,
and its use as a fumigant poses risk of groundwater contamination because of
its properties and the way it will be used—widespread applications to
strawberry fields.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It
would be foolish to knowingly poison our groundwater, create enormous clean-up
bills and risk our children’s health for generations to come,” said
Paul Towers, State Director of Pesticide Watch Education Fund. “The study
supports what scientists have been telling officials all along: methyl iodide
cannot be controlled once released into the environment. Combined with the
chemical’s high toxicity, it should be a no-brainer for DPR to refuse its
use in California.”

The report also indicates that the air near fumigated fields
contains methyl iodide at levels posing health risks to community residents and
farmworkers in nearby fields. Air monitoring results from Florida showed an
average air concentration of methyl iodide at a 30-foot buffer boundary during
the first 24 hours after application to be 9 parts per billion (ppb), or 30
times higher than the 0.3 ppb concentration deemed to be marginally acceptable
by the Scientific Review Committee, a peer–review committee of
independent scientists who reviewed DPR’s risk assessment of methyl
iodide. The maximum air concentration measured between 4 and 8 hours after
application was 37.5 ppb, or 125 times the 0.3ppb level that these scientists
recommend as a maximum exposure limit to prevent fetal death.

“These methyl iodide air levels were found even though
the field was covered with the special type of  tarp (called Virtually
Impermeable Film ) that DPR is counting on to control exposures ,” said
Anne Katten, Pesticide and Work Safety Specialist at California Rural Legal
Assistance Foundation. “While larger buffers would be required in
California, the Florida monitoring also found levels over 2 ppb (about
8-fold higher than the 0.3 ppb level scientists deemed marginally safe) after
buffer zones would have expired.”

The Arysta-funded air and water monitoring report from
Florida can be downloaded at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/491851/IR1_MIDAS_004-11437-00.pdf.

Methyl iodide would be used
primarily on California’s strawberry fields. Despite the claims that it
would not be possible to grow strawberries without methyl iodide, organic
growers across the state do so successfully every year.

A Washington State University
study released earlier this month showed that organic farms produced more
flavorful and nutritious strawberries while leaving the soil healthier and more
genetically diverse than conventional strawberry farms (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-09/wsu-sfc082510.php).
Recently, Washington state refused to register methyl iodide as a soil fumigant
based on findings in California’s review of methyl iodide toxicity.


PANNA (Pesticide Action Network North America) works to replace pesticide use with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. As one of five autonomous PAN Regional Centers worldwide, we link local and international consumer, labor, health, environment and agriculture groups into an international citizens' action network. This network challenges the global proliferation of pesticides, defends basic rights to health and environmental quality, and works to ensure the transition to a just and viable society.

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