A scientific review panel evaluating a soil fumigant for use in California agriculture has concluded that its application in strawberry fields and elsewhere would result in “significant health risks” for workers and the general population.
The conclusion about the methyl iodide comes as the Department of Pesticide Regulation is nearing a final decision on whether to register the chemical for use in California despite objections from farmworker groups, environmentalists and organic farmers. Methyl Iodide was developed to replace methyl bromide, another fumigant that was found to cause cancer and birth defects and is being phased out by the US EPA. The EPA has approved methyl iodide and it is registered for use in 47 other states.
Representatives of California’s nursery industry have said that much of the industry will leave the state if the chemical is not authorized because it is one of their few tools to fight nematodes in the soil. A separate state law sets a “zero tolerance” policy for nematodes, banning the shipment of any agricultural product containing them and forcing growers to destroy crops that are growing in infested soil. Nematodes are a microscopic roundworm that can do tremendous damage to fruit trees and berry crops, among other plants.
But scientists critical of the pesticide industry said the report confirms what they have been arguing: that big agriculture in California and elsewhere is going to have to find less toxic ways to protect its crops from bugs.
“The science is in. Using methyl iodide in the fields would be a ticking time bomb,” said Dr. Susan Kegley, Consulting Scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America. “If the Department of Pesticide Regulation approves methyl iodide, we can expect to see increased numbers of late-term miscarriages for women who live or work near methyl iodide applications, increased thyroid disease, and more cancers.”
Other resources: To read the full scientific report, go here.