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ACTION: Fight Methyl Iodide Legalization

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Dec 01, 2010 at 17:57:16 PM PST

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The legalization of methyl iodide was a two-step process. First, under Dubya, the federal government gave it the green light. In California, it needed a second green light before it could be used. That's what came today. A number of groups (see press release below) are calling on the incoming Jerry Brown administration to immediately put a moratorium on the use of methyl iodide.

The history of this story requires a bit of explaining. It begins with the fact that strawberries were never meant to be grown in monoculture in the same fields year after year after year. They just weren't. But that is, of course, what the farms that grow them in California do.

To do it, they kill everything in the soil using a soil fumigant before they plant the strawberries. In the past, they used a chemical called methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is an incredibly potent destroyer of the ozone layer, and for years now, it's been getting phased out internationally. (Although, under Bush II, the U.S. didn't really go along with the program on phasing it out.)

Now the berry farms "need" a replacement to methyl bromide. That's where methyl iodide comes in. Rather than changing the way we grow strawberries, we are about to continue growing them with ever more toxic chemicals. (And honestly, have you ever compared the difference in taste between a fresh-picked strawberry and the kind you get at the store? To me the berries being grown with these chemicals - or even organic berries that are picked under-ripe to ship across the country - aren't even worth eating.)

Please, take action here, and read the following press release from Pesticide Action Network, Pesticide Watch, and Californians for Pesticide Reform.

Jill Richardson :: ACTION: Fight Methyl Iodide Legalization
SACRAMENTO, CA-Ignoring the assessments of top US scientists and its own Scientific Review Committee, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced its approval today for use of methyl iodide, a potent carcinogen and water contaminant, in the state's strawberry fields. The news comes one day after press events in eight California cities urging DPR to deny its approval, and after Washington State decided to not allow use of the chemical.

A coalition of farmworker, farm, public health and environmental groups is calling on the Brown Administration to work with his Agency staff to undo this approval, and deny the use of methyl iodide in California. Specifically, Brown should:

·       Follow the recommendation of John Froines, PhD, Chair of the Scientific Review Committee, to reconvene the Committee and direct DPR to incorporate the Committee's evaluation and analysis into its final decision.

·       Put a moratorium on methyl iodide use on his first day of office.

Crumbling under chemical industry pressure, including an intensive pro-methyl-iodide lobbying and communications campaign run by Arysta LifeScience-methyl iodide manufacturer and the largest privately held pesticide company in the world, the state of California has shunned the findings of top scientists who have consistently said that the chemical is too dangerous to be used in agriculture. Arysta LifeScience pushed to secure registration of the pesticide in California because it is one of the most lucrative pesticide markets in the nation.

The Scientific Review Committee (SRC) noted in its final report in February that "Based on the data available, we know that methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical and we expect that any anticipated scenario for the agricultural or structural fumigation use of this agent would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health. Due to the potent toxicity of methyl iodide, its transport in and ultimate fate in the environment, adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible."

Dr. John Froines, Chair of the SRC and Professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health at UCLA said in a Senate Food and Agriculture Committee Hearing in June, "I believe that if you go out into the real world, and I think everybody in this room knows what the real world in the valleys are about, that the mitigation strategies that are promised so articulately by Mary-Ann [Warmerdam, DPR Director], are not going to be adequate, because this is without question one of the most toxic chemicals on earth." (page 46 of transcript)

"The decision to permit use of a chemical in the fields that causes cancer, late-term miscarriage and permanent neurological damage is ticking time bomb," said Dr. Susan Kegley, Consulting Scientist with Pesticide Action Network. "The idea that this pesticide can be used safely in the fields is a myth."

"The science is clear: there's no way to use this chemical safely in the fields, no matter what conditions DPR puts on its use," said Anne Katten, Pesticide and Worker Safety Specialist at California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

"The Schwarzenegger administration has left a huge mess for Governor Brown to clean up. Governor Brown and his staff should act immediately to ban the use of methyl iodide in California," said Paul Towers, State Director of Pesticide Watch Education Fund.

In 2007, the Bush Administration's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved methyl iodide at the national level, ignoring concerns from a group of over 50 eminent scientists-including six Nobel Laureates in Chemistry-who expressed astonishment in a letter to U.S. EPA that the agency was "working to legalize broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment."

Since then, the more protective registration processes in New York State and Washington State both rejected methyl iodide, and in August, Senator Dianne Feinstein asked the US EPA to review the pesticide's registration nationally. The agency has said that it will open a public comment period on the pesticide's approval due to the "complexity of the issues raised and the public interest in methyl iodide."

Following their draft announcement in April to approve methyl iodide, DPR received over 53,000 public comments-the most in the history of the department, and the vast majority in opposition to approval.

"Today, California has failed communities who live near fields, trading our health to protect the profits of pesticide companies," said Teresa DeAnda, President of the community group El Comité Para el Bienestar de Earlimart. "Governor Brown needs to take immediate action to ban methyl iodide because neither Arysta nor California regulators will be there to help when our communities get cancer and we lose our babies."

The chemical will be used primarily on 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.  "I've been growing strawberries without using pesticides in California for 25 years," said Jim Cochran, owner of Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California.  "It's certainly possible to grow commercially-viable and ecologically sound strawberry crops without using methyl iodide or any other chemical pesticides."

A study released in September from Washington State University showed that organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious strawberries while leaving the soil healthier and more genetically diverse than conventional strawberry farms ( ).

Once again, take action here.

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