New Toxic Pesticides to Replace Older Ozone Depleting Pesticides

Nothing says summer like strawberries, but before you bite into your next, read this.

Methyl Bromide, a soil fumigant often used on strawberry crops, was phased out in the US by 2005 because it was depleting the ozone layer. The phase out was based on the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Clean Air Act.

Good news, right? The EPA was acknowledging that yet one more federally-approved chemical was actually causing more harm than good. But I only found out about the banned Methyl Bromide because of the attention recently placed on Methyl Iodide. Approved in 2007, and currently used in many states as a “good” replacement for the banned Methyl Bromide, Methyl Iodide has its own set of problems.

Methyl Iodide is currently under scrutiny as the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) proposes approval of its use. Even though Methyl Iodide is used in many states already, California, which has its own pesticide approval process, has been questioning its safety level for the last year. While Methyl Iodide is not an ozone depleting pesticide like Methyl Bromide, it is extremely toxic to humans, a consistent carcinogenic that is used in the lab by chemists to induce cancer in experimental subjects such as mice. It has also been found to affect the nervous system, lungs, liver and kidneys, and to damage human fetuses.

While an independent review requested by the DPR concluded that “any anticipated scenario for … 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,” the agency is still pushing for its approval, suggesting more stringent regulations than originally spelled out by the EPA. These tighter regulations include better training in proper application, controlling the amount used, limiting exposure for workers and requiring special permits. They would also include bigger “buffer zones” between fields sprayed with the toxin and local hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and schools.

Though it isn’t looking good, if the California proposal is rejected, it could have a large impact, possibly moving up the next scheduled federal review of Methyl Iodide, now slated for 2013. It could even help lead to a federal ban.

As the revolving doors between industry and the government continue to …revolve, it takes very little digging to unearth a sketchy connection in this situation. In 2007, the year Methyl Iodide was approved by the EPA, Elin Miller, a past employee of Arysta (the company that makes the pesticide), was EPA Administrator for Region 10, which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington State and 267 Indian Tribes. Methyl Iodide was originally approved for one year, but the probationary time line was extended indefinitely as the Bush administration left office.

In the wake of President Obama’s Cancer Panel report, which found that the “risk of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated,” and links between chemicals and diseases (such as that between pesticides and ADHD) showing up regularly, the DPR’s proposal flies in the face of facts we've been privy to for a long time. You can send your comments about the proposal to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation until June 29th at mei_comments@cdpr.ca.gov.

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