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