In an 11th-hour move, Governor Schwarzenegger's Department of Pesticide Regulation has approved methyl iodide for use in strawberry fields. This chemical is a potent carcinogen and neurotoxin.
The decision flies in the face of overwhelming public and scientific opposition. Prior to the decision, the DPR saw its largest public comment period ever, with 53,000 comments, most of them urging the state to ban the pesticide. But in the end, lobbying and media campaign by Arysta LifeScience -- the company that manufactures methyl iodide -- persuaded the DPR to put corporate interests ahead of public health.
Now is the time to double down. In January, Governor-Elect Jerry Brown will take office, and he will have the power to issue an immediate moratorium on methyl iodide. He can also reconvene the review committee and direct the DPR to actually listen to their scientific recommendations this time.
The science on this chemical speaks for itself. Methyl iodide is a known carcinogen, neurotoxin and thyroid toxicant. It induces late-term miscarriages and damages developing fetuses in laboratory animals. Fumigating fields with the gas -- even with the strictest regulations -- would no doubt still result in unacceptable exposures to farmworkers and surrounding populations.
DPR approved the chemical despite a report from its own independent panel of scientists declaring 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 to public health."
This is a clear instance of corporate influence over-riding science and the public interest. Governor-Elect Brown needs to take a public stance against methyl iodide and make a moratorium one of his first priorities in office.
The scientific findings brought to light during California’s review process are clear. This chemical causes cancer, poses extremely high risks to farmworkers and pregnant women, and has the potential to contaminate our scarce groundwater resources with high levels of iodide.
Methyl iodide soil fumigation products were registered by the US EPA in 2007 despite serious concerns raised by 55 scientists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences, five of them Nobel Laureates. In a letter to U.S. EPA, these scientists stated, “It is astonishing then that the Office of Pesticide Programs is working to legalize broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment.”
This winter, the California Scientific Review Panel completed its review of California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s methyl iodide risk assessment, concluding:
“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. This is clearly shown in the DPR risk calculations and the evidence of the toxicity of methyl iodide upon which these conclusions are based is compelling. In addition to the evidence for significant toxicity there is a lack of information that adds further uncertainty to the evaluation of the toxicity. We have concluded there is little doubt that the compound possesses significant toxicity.
Furthermore, this is coupled with a major lack of critical health effects data that could make the upside to all of the risk calculations even higher, as noted above. Specifically, several areas in the exposure assessment could lead to estimated margins of exposure even smaller than those presented in the report; examples include: inhalation rates, environmental temperature, emission rates, skin exposure, the assumption of the adequacy of the respirator protection factors, the hours in a workday, and potential water contamination”
This is an issue of farmworker health, children’s health and of environmental justice. The science is strong. It is time for a re-evaluation. We urge you to immediately put a stop to the registration of methyl iodide as a soil fumigant.