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Meet Methyl Iodide - Toxic Fumigant

Posted on Jan 7, 2010
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Strawberry The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is considering whether or not to register methyl iodide for use in California, primarily for growing strawberries.

Methyl iodide, a highly carcinogenic chemical used to induce cancer in laboratory animals, would be one of the most toxic pesticides (PDF) on the market in California.

Methyl iodide is a water contaminant, nervous system poison, and thyroid toxicant. It is listed on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

Over 50 eminent scientists, including five Nobel Laureates, have expressed profound concern for the health of people living and working near methyl iodide application sites – especially pregnant women, farmworkers, children, and the elderly.

These scientists’ concerns are shared by many others, including Worksafe. We have joined forces with organizations and individuals who are opposed to methyl iodide registration, including Pesticide Action Network, California Rural Legal Assistance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and many more.

In addition to community-based organizations, other non-profits, independent scientists, and farmworkers, leaders in the state legislature are also working to protect the public from this dangerous pesticide. In August 2009, Assemblymember Bill Monning (Carmel) and Senator Mark Leno (San Francisco) co-authored a letter, signed by 33 other state legislators, in opposition to the proposed use of this new fumigant in California.

In California, the chemical would be primarily used on strawberry fields at rates up to 175 lbs per acre. With 38,000 acres of strawberries currently in production in California, five to 10 million pounds of methyl iodide could be used statewide. Like all fumigants (pesticides that readily become gases), methyl iodide drifts from its intended target, despite any efforts to contain it.

The Bush Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered methyl iodide despite calls from scientists that the costs to human health were too great. As a result, the chemical was automatically registered for use in a number of states that do not conduct independent scientific reviews.

Professor John Froines of UCLA lead a Scientific Review Panel in assessing DPR's risk assessment of methyl iodide. Click here to read the comments submitted by Worksafe to the Scientific Review Panel. In February, 2010, DPR released the panel's report. These scientific experts found that methyl iodide poses significant human-health risks and would be difficult to control in farm applications. The DPR is currently reviewing the report and will decide whether to register methyl iodide in the coming months.

What happens in California has implications for those states where methyl iodide was automatically registered following approval on the federal level. U.S. EPA is reviewing the Scientific Review Panel's report and may choose to reconsider its registration of methyl iodide.

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