Strawberry Pesticide Up for Debate

For Immediate Release


Heather Pilatic, Pesticide Action Network, cell: 415.694.8596

Paul S. Towers, Pesticide Watch

Strawberry Pesticide Up for Debate

Legislature investigates methyl iodide, slated for use in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In a letter authored by Senator Mark Leno and Assemblymember Bill Monning, and signed by twenty-five state legislators, the signatories called on Governor Schwarzenegger to keep the controversial pesticide methyl iodide out of California’s strawberry fields.

“We strongly believe that methyl iodide has no role to play in building a secure, viable and healthy agricultural economy in the 21st Century,” said authors Senator Leno and Assemblymember Monning.  On August 19, the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee will meet to explore the approval of methyl iodide and the potential impact on workers.

“While I am encouraged at the decision of DPR to pursue the external peer review and public testimony, I still believe it is imperative to devote a special informational hearing by the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee focused on worker health and safety issues related to the potential registration of Methyl Iodide,” said Assemblymember Monning.

“We are pleased that this group of legislators is taking the lead to protect public health. The scientific review of methyl iodide is very important in this case because of the sheer number of hazards it poses--cancer, thyroid disease, miscarriages, and neurotoxicity. This highly politicized process needs a reality check that the scientific review will provide," said Dr. Susan Kegley, consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network of North America.

On July 29, responding to concerns that previously planned public and scientific process were subject to cancellation or postponement by the Governor’s office, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced its intentions to proceed with an external scientific review of methyl iodide.

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 before planting, 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.

The Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment will meet to discuss the approval of methyl iodide in California, as well exposure to workers at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 19, in Room 447 of the California State Capitol.



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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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