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Strawberry Fields Forever-Poisoned? Pesticide Threatens Workers’ and Residents’ Health

Strawberry Fields Forever-Poisoned? Pesticide Threatens Workers’ and Residents’ Health

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has proposed that a chemical that is commonly used to induce cancer in lab animals be approved for use on the state’s crops, primarily on delicate strawberries. Methyl iodide is being proposed as a substitute for methyl bromide, which is being phased out because it depletes the earth’s ozone layer. But the alternative chemical is a known carcinogen; the fear is that the fumigant will increase incidences of cancer, nerve damage or fetal-development problems among workers and people living near treated fields.

Methyl iodide was approved for use in by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2007 over the objections of scientists who said it was not safe.  It is injected into the soil before planting to kill insects, weed seeds, and diseases that may harm plants.

California is one of a handful of states that registers pesticides separately from the federal government and while the California proposal has more stringent regulations for use than those of the EPA, some scientists are fuming that the fumigant is being approved for use at all. A panel of scientists convened by the California DPR concluded that any agricultural use of methyl iodide “would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health.” Exposure to methyl iodide has been linked to cancer and miscarriages. The letter continues: “In addition to evidence of significant toxicity, there is a lack of information that adds further uncertainty to the evaluation of the toxicity. We have concluded that there is little doubt that the compound possesses significant toxicity.”

Surely jumping out of the frying pan of ozone depletion into the fire of toxic danger to field workers and the food supply is not a great tradeoff.

Take action
DPR is accepting public comment on the proposed use of methyl iodide until June 14.

Sign the petition No Methyl Iodide On Our Food: http://www.care2.com/go/z/19848154

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Photo: Agricultural workers could be at significant risk in the strawberry fields of California
Holger Hubbs, Creative Commons license.

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103 comments

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12:34PM PDT on Apr 23, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

12:44AM PST on Dec 11, 2011

I'm not a big strawberry eater, but this is actually terrifying.

1:31PM PDT on May 22, 2011

That's why we love the EPA.

12:58AM PDT on May 19, 2011

Noted. Thanks!

11:44AM PDT on Jun 18, 2010

Fumigating the soil before planting pretty much kills any pests that might be in it. Unfortunately the fumigant tends to seep up through the soil and expose workers and others nearby. When the highly toxic fumigant methyl bromide was banned under the Montreal protocol as a greenhouse gas an ozone depleting gas, growers started looking for a replacement. Now the EPA has approved one, methyl iodide.
If you know any chemistry, you might suspect that replacing one halogen with another might not solve the problem. Indeed methyl iodide is nasty. If you want to use it you must employ a certified applicator, establish a buffer zone of 25 to 500 feet around the fields, no use within a quarter mile of a school, day care facility, nursing home, hospital, prison or playground. And if you are a shoveler, tractor driver or applicator you have to be trained and you have to wear a respirator. Farm workers can't re-enter the fields for five days after application.

8:48PM PDT on Jun 13, 2010

wow the opening statement puts me in aww .. i was completely oblivious to the mention of a test where a human injects some species with a cancer causing agent. wow how could this be so? we have strayed so far from creation of the conduct we no longer follow, we lost our essence of life and trivial ways that kept us in balance abiding by the web of life

1:14PM PDT on Jun 11, 2010

I remember back to the 1960s when my grandfather would always remind me to carefully wash the store-bought berries because they had chemicals (pesticides, etc) on them. We really haven't made much progress, have we?

4:49AM PDT on Jun 6, 2010

As long as people vote with their wallets by buying the toxic food products of industrial agriculture corporations poisonous practices will continue.
Recently i attended an environmental film festival and met the Dervaes family who had a film entered.
Maybe even follow their 'Path to Freedom'....
Seriously inspirational.
Google it and learn how to escape the corporate clutches.
Empower your selves and make a difference.
At least have a look, what have you got to loose?
Also check out Permaculture.
That's about sustainable organic food, companion and complementary planting techniques but requires more than the urban setting of the Dervaes family in Pasadena.
There are solutions to these problems.
There are alternatives.
Are humans wise enough to adopt them is the key question
that was treated in the award winning feature film
'The Age Of Stupid'.
Unfortunately it is unlikely these sorts of films will be screened
in the mainstream cinemas or media...
Guess that's where the internet is invaluable
and forums such as Care 2 where we can discuss such issues
at least until govt's can find ways to restrict the net
like China does.
Anyway, hope that info can be beneficial.
Cheers
:D

5:30AM PDT on Jun 4, 2010

I have already signed petition.

10:33AM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

Petition signed!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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