GroundTruth Blog

Methyl iodide update: 200k+ stand with scientists against cancer-causing pesticide

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by Kathryn Gilje

On May 13th, the country's top scientists and 200,000+ ordinary people urged EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to prioritize scientific evidence over corporate influence and ban the cancer-causing pesticide methyl iodide. Called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” by Dr. John Froines, the chair of California's scientific review of the chemical, methyl iodide is promoted by Arysta LifeScience — the largest privately-held pesticide company in the world.

Here's the latest news:

  • 39 distinguished scientists including three Nobel laureates in Chemistry wrote EPA on May 7, 2011, saying “rigorously conducted analysis indicates that methyl iodide cannot be used safely as a soil fumigant and serves as a sound scientific basis for U.S. EPA to cancel all agricultural uses of methyl iodide.”
  • More than 35 California legislators, including Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez, submitted a letter to EPA on April 4, 2011 urging policymakers to “suspend and cancel all uses of iodomethane (methyl iodide) in the United States....”
  • Investors like Farmland LP made the case in February 2011 that methyl iodide is simply not needed for a healthy and abundant food supply.
  • Over 40 farmworker and environmental justice organizations stood up against the disproportionate costs of methyl iodide that will be endured by farmworkers and communities near fields where it is used: cancer, neurological harm and danger of miscarraiges.
  • Iowa-based Food Democracy Now delivered more than 35,000 petitions against methyl iodide.

About methyl iodide

Methyl iodide is a carcinogen — scientists use it in labs to create cancer cells — and can cause late term miscarriages and contaminate water. It is a soil fumigant that would be primarily used in the nation’s strawberry, tomato and pepper fields.

The chemical was approved for agricultural use by the Bush Administration’s EPA in 2007. Of the few states that conduct additional scientific review before allowing use of pesticides after they are first approved by U.S. EPA, both New York and Washington have refused to allow use of methyl iodide. California scientists commissioned to review methyl iodide concluded in 2010 that agricultural use “…would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health,” and “adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

These strong findings convinced Washington State to refuse methyl iodide, yet California’s Schwarzenegger Administration approved the pesticide for use at the 11th hour in December 2010, ignoring scientific evidence and the voices of over 50,000 Californians who opposed the registration. California provides 86% of the strawberries to the U.S. market.

U.S. EPA opened a public comment period in response to a petition filed in March 2010 by 11 public health, labor, environment and farmworker advocacy organizations from across the country. Subsequently, in response to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (CA) request that EPA decision-makers formally reconsider the decision to approve methyl iodide in August 2010, EPA officials agreed to open the most recent public comment period, but waited until March 2011 to solicit public input—generating this latest response by more than 200,000 people. Look here to see the comments.

I'm grateful for all who are engaged in this campaign with such integrity. Momentum is building, and I'm hopeful for the day when our food system is fully reclaimed from chemical industry control.

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