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Cancer-Causing Methyl Iodide on Trial

Posted on Jan 6, 2012
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Court to Hear Challenge to Cancer-Causing Pesticide Methyl Iodide
California officials approved pesticide over warnings from state and independent scientists

What: Court trial on cancer-causing methyl iodide

Who: Attorneys for environmental, health and farmworker groups, attorneys for pesticide maker Arysta, attorneys representing the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, farmworkers potentially affected by pesticide drift, and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

When: 9am Thursday, January 12 (note* the trial could last up to four hours. Key spokespersons for groups challenging methyl iodide will be available to media after the hearing either by phone or in person on the steps of the courthouse).

Where: Alameda County Administration Building, 1221 Oak Street, 3rd Floor, Room/Dept. 24, Oakland

Why: Methyl iodide causes late term miscarriages, is a known carcinogen, and puts California’s scarce groundwater supplies at risk of contamination. The pesticide poses the most direct risks to farmworkers and neighboring communities because of the volume that would be applied to fields and its tendency to drift off-site through the air.

According to court documents, the state agency that approved the cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide favored the input of the chemical’s manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience, over the recommendations of its own scientists and independent scientists on the State-convened Scientific Review Committee. Approval of the pesticide was rushed through in the final days of the Schwarzenegger administration.

A lawsuit challenging approval of methyl iodide was filed on December 2010 by Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. on behalf of Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers of America, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Pesticide Watch Education Fund, Worksafe, Communities and Children, Advocates Against Pesticide Poisoning, and farmworkers Jose Hidalgo Ramon and Zeferino Estrada.

The suit claims state approval of methyl iodide violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act, and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act. Judge Frank Roesch is anticipated to issue his findings within the next few months, though may offer initial opinions on January 12.

Methyl iodide is currently approved for application to strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, orchards, vineyards, and nurseries at rates up to 100 pounds per acre. In California, it will primarily be used on much of the state’s 38,000 acres in strawberry production, totaling potentially millions of pounds of use. New York and Washington states have refused to approve methyl iodide as a pesticide.

A team of independent scientists determined that agricultural uses of methyl iodide would likely result in farmworkers and rural communities facing exposures far above levels of concern, unless the size of spray buffer zones was “several hundred feet to several miles.” The Department of Pesticide Regulation characterized large buffer zones as “excessive and difficult to enforce” noting that“[t]he registrant [manufacturer Arysta LifeScience] may find these buffer zones unacceptable due to its economic viability.”

Documents show that DPR management selected the desired buffer zones first and then mixed and matched methods of risk assessment to obtain an “acceptable” level of exposure.

Fifty-four eminent scientists, including six Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, said methyl iodide is “one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing” and questioned the wisdom of U.S. EPA’s initial approval of the chemical.

The pesticide was approved over the warnings of a state-commissioned independent Scientific Review Committee whose chairman Dr. John Froines said, “I honestly think that this chemical will cause disease and illness and so does everyone else on the committee.” Another panel member, Theodore Slotkin, a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University, wrote, “It is my personal opinion that this decision will result in serious harm to California citizens, and most especially to children.”

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Worksafe is a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting people from job-related hazards and empowering them to advocate for the right to a safe and healthy workplace. For more information, visit www.worksafe.org.

This press release is distributed in conjunction with Earthjustice, Pesticide Action Network, and Californians for Pesticide Reform.



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