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NEWS RELEASE: DPR proposes registration of carcinogenic pesticide

For more information, contact:
Megan Buckingham, Californians for Pesticide Reform, 319-230-0282
Paul Towers, Pesticide Watch, 916-216-1082
Kathryn Gilje, Pesticide Action Network North America, 415-235-9437


For immediate release: Friday, April 30, 2010

Corporate pressure trumps science on methyl iodide:
California Department of Pesticide Regulation proposes use of
potent carcinogen and water contaminant

SACRAMENTO, CA—Despite significant cancer and reproductive health risk to Californians, and especially for farmworkers and people living near agricultural fields, today the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) proposed the use of a new and highly toxic pesticide, methyl iodide, for widespread agricultural use in California. If registered, methyl iodide will be used primarily to gas and sterilize the state’s strawberry fields, although the pesticide will also be used in nurseries and nut tree production. DPR’s proposal does not require neighbor notification before use of this extremely toxic chemical.

A panel of internationally-renowned scientists convened by DPR, who conducted a formal review of the chemical during 2009–2010, concluded in their report that due to the high toxicity of methyl iodide, any agricultural use, “would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health,” adding that, “adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

Further, a group of over 50 eminent scientists, including five Nobel Laureates, sent a letter of concern to U.S. EPA about methyl iodide 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.”

The pesticide is promoted by the largest privately-held pesticide company in the world, Arysta LifeScience. Arysta has invested significant resources in lobbying and a communications campaign within the state to secure registration in one of the most lucrative markets in the nation.

Californians have been clear that they do not want the carcinogenic pesticide approved for use in the state, and that there are safer, cleaner and more viable ways to grow strawberries. Certainly this is not the future Californians envision for their state. Opposition has measured in the thousands, and includes farmworkers, mothers, doctors and nurses, victims of pesticide poisoning and residents of rural communities.  

Dr. Susan Kegley, chemist and consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network North America, commented, “If DPR’s decision holds, in addition to increased thyroid disease and more cancers generally, scientific evidence predicts we will see a leap in late-term miscarriages for pregnant women who live or work near methyl iodide applications. We want them to reconsider this decision immediately. ”

“Why are we risking our children’s lives when alternatives to methyl iodide are already being used successfully to grow strawberries?” said Marilyn Lynds, resident of Moss Landing. “With this decision, the Department of Pesticide Regulation has put communities in harm’s way. With increasing levels of cancer all around us, why would DPR put one more dangerous carcinogen into the air—especially one scientists consider difficult, if not impossible, to control.”

“Under this proposal, fieldworkers near fumigation sites would have significant risk for miscarriages and nervous system effects,” explains Anne Katten, a pesticide and worker safety specialist at California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

As evidenced by California’s thriving organics industry, alternatives to fumigants exist and are in use in California. In a hearing on February 8, 2010, before the California Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture, two panels of California growers and researchers discussed a number of safe and effective alternatives to methyl iodide.  These methods include solarization, anaerobic soil disinfestation, crop rotation, biological controls, selective breeding, soil steaming, hydroponics, and steam treatment for containerized plants.

Paul Towers from Pesticide Watch said, “DPR should take these forty-five days to truly review and reconsider its approval of a known carcinogen and miscarriage-inducing pesticide. In 2010 we should be moving towards green solutions that are safe for our communities, not backtracking by adding new poisons to the arsenal.”

DPR is accepting comments on the proposed use of methyl iodide for forty-five days, ending June 14, 2010.