The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Heather Pilatic, Pesticide Action Network, cell: 415.694.8596

Industry Pressuring Governor to Override Science and Allow Use of Controversial New Pesticide in California's Strawberry Fields

Methyl iodide, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer, would be the first new fumigant pesticide approved in nearly ten years


With the stroke of a pen, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could bow to
industry interests and single-handedly increase the incidence of
cancer, miscarriages, and thyroid disease in California. Or he could
allow the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and a
scientific peer review panel to do their jobs.

At issue is the
new fumigant pesticide methyl iodide. Highly toxic, and not yet
approved for use in California, this chemical has been given a
comprehensive review by the state's own Department of Pesticide
Regulation (DPR) and found to be one of the riskiest pesticides in
existence. Scientists familiar with methyl iodide are asking
Schwarzenegger to let science guide this decision rather than political

"Methyl iodide is so toxic that scientists working
with it in the laboratory take extreme precautions when handling it,
using a ventilation hood, gloves, and special equipment for
transferring it so it does not escape to the air." notes Dr. Susan
Kegley, a chemist and consulting scientist for Pesticide Action
Network. "This degree of protection is not possible in an agricultural
setting where the pesticide would be applied at rates of 175 pounds per
acre in the open air. Buffer zones of 400 feet (a distance most growers
would say is unworkable) for a 40-acre fumigation would still result in
a dose of methyl iodide to neighbors that is 375 times higher than DPR
believes is acceptable. For workers, the numbers are much worse, with
exposures estimated at 3,000 times higher than DPR's acceptable dose
for some tasks."

Methyl iodide would primarily be used on
strawberries in California, affecting people in the Coastal parts of
the state from San Diego and Ventura to Watsonville. Communities and
farmworker advocates across the state are urging Governor
Schwarzenegger to consider the serious potential impacts this chemical
will have on their lives if it is permitted for use. According to Anne
Katten of California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, "People who
would suffer the highest exposure to methyl iodide are among the
state's least protected: farmworkers and their families including
especially vulnerable young children and pregnant and nursing women."

to unnamed sources, representatives from the pesticide manufacturers
and agricultural industry have been meeting with the Governor's office
to demand faster registration of Midas, a fumigation product containing
methyl iodide and chloropicrin, by the end of the summer. The same
sources indicate that the Governor's office has directed DPR to
register methyl iodide by a certain date, apparently regardless of
DPR's toxicological assessment or the results of a scientific peer

DPR's risk assessment is on track to be
peer-reviewed by a Scientific Review Panel, comprised of highly
respected university scientists. Industry interests (primarily the
methyl iodide manufacturer, Arysta and select grower organizations) are
now pressuring the Governor to forego the scientific review and force
DPR to allow the use of methyl iodide for California's fall fumigation
season. In 2007 the Bush administration bowed to similar pressures,
doctoring the science used to assess the risks of methyl iodide, and
allowing it to be registered by US EPA.

"California produces
eighty percent of the nation's strawberries and we lead the nation in
sustainable and organic agricultural practices. CCOF (California
Certified Organic Farmers) has 127 certified organic strawberry
producers who do not use harmful chemicals of this sort and are
successful business operations," states Peggy Miars, Executive Director
of CCOF. "Registering methyl iodide would be a big step backwards, we
need to hold the line here. It's clear from the success of organic
farming practices that a replacement chemical is not what is required,
instead what is needed is a greater commitment to innovation and using
alternative, more ecologically integrated pest and disease control

Highly toxic and with application rates of up to 175
pounds per acre, methyl iodide has been controversial from the time US
EPA announced its intent to register this chemical for legal use as a
pesticide. In 2007, US EPA fast-tracked the registration of methyl
iodide (a Proposition 65 carcinogen) for use as a soil fumigant despite
serious concerns raised by a group of over 50 eminent scientists,
including five Nobel Laureates. These scientists sent a letter of
concern to US EPA explaining, " Because of methyl iodide's high
volatility and water solubility, broad use of this chemical in
agriculture will guarantee substantial releases to air, surface waters
and groundwater, and will result in exposures for many people. In
addition to the potential for increased cancer incidence, US EPA's own
evaluation of the chemical also indicates that methyl iodide causes
thyroid toxicity, permanent neurological damage, and fetal losses in
experimental animals." The letter concludes, "It is astonishing that
the Office of Pesticide Programs (of US EPA) is working to legalize
broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in
manufacturing into the environment."

If registered as a soil
fumigant, methyl iodide would be applied primarily in California's
strawberry fields, and as a gas it would drift away from the
application site, and expose neighboring residents and farmworkers in
nearby fields. Methyl iodide is a threat to air and water supplies and
has been linked to very serious illnesses including cancer,
miscarriages, thyroid toxicity, and neurological problems.

iodide is even more toxic than what it is supposed to be replacing.
More to the point, it is entirely unnecessary, as sustainable and
organic farming systems are available now," says Brett Melone of the
Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) in Salinas.
"ALBA has trained hundreds of farmers to grow food -- including
strawberries -- without chemicals in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San
Benito counties. Most of the farmers ALBA works with are former
farmworkers seeking a healthier work environment to grow food."

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.