Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Dangerous proposals to expand use of methyl bromide, a highly toxic and ozone depleting fumigant pesticide, are moving forward in California and in the U.S. Congress, representing serious backsliding away from protective public health and environmental standards.
This Alert explains the California situation, and urges you to send a letter to California Department of Pesticide Regulations (CA DPR) by the close of their comment period, November 18, 2003. If you are near enough, please also attend one of three public hearings on methyl bromide scheduled in the state, in Sacramento (1 pm, November 14), Ventura (1 pm, November 15) or Salinas (6 pm November 17). We will present the federal situation and ask for your help in stopping the proposed roll-back of U.S. methyl bromide limits under the international Montreal Protocol in the near future.
Methyl bromide is an acutely toxic and highly volatile reproductive and nervous system toxicant. Animal studies indicate that methyl bromide causes birth defects, repeated exposures cause neurobehavioral problems, and higher exposure levels can permanently damage the nervous system. A 2002 study of prostate cancer among more than 55,000 agricultural workers and professional pesticide applicators singled out methyl bromide for its increased prostate cancer risk, particularly related to higher exposures. In areas of California with high methyl bromide use (including Santa Cruz, Monterey and Ventura counties), many residents report chronic headaches, severe asthma attacks, nausea, sore throats and dry cough during methyl bromide season.
CA DPR has proposed methyl bromide field fumigation regulations that increase so-called "acceptable" exposure levels and keep workers and residents in rural communities at risk. In 2000, CA DPR adopted methyl bromide field fumigation regulations without addressing sub-chronic, or longer term, repeated, exposures. After several lawsuits brought by PANNA and other organizations, CA DPR has been forced to reissue their methyl bromide regulations.
CA DPR claims that the new regulations will improve protection from long-term methyl bromide exposure. In reality, CA DPR's proposed regulations raise so-called "acceptable" sub-chronic methyl bromide exposure limits nine fold for children (from 1 ppb to 9 ppb) and eight fold for adult workers (from 2 ppb to 16 ppb). These relaxed exposure limits are based on a controversial interpretation of a 2002 study conducted by the methyl bromide manufacturers. Pesticide hazard evaluation experts at California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment concluded that this study was highly flawed and recommended keeping the more protective 1 ppb sub-chronic exposure limit.
Truly protective regulations should incorporate monthly township limits on methyl bromide use and increase required buffer zones to achieve safe air levels. CA DPR's own staff analysis in 2001 showed that monthly township use limits on methyl bromide use were needed to reduce air levels below 1 ppb. Without such limits, air levels at La Joya Elementary School in Salinas were 3.8 (ppb) in 2002 and 2.8 (ppb) in 2001, and Pajaro Middle School in Watsonville levels were 7.7 (ppb) in 2000 and 3.0 (ppb) in 2001, for example.
The proposed CA DPR regulations would also give individual county Agricultural Commissioners authority to approve even less protective buffer zones than those set by CA DPR if "the county agricultural commissioner determines, based on other information, that the methyl bromide application will assure equal or less exposure." County Agricultural Commissioners do not have the capacity to make such assessments accurately, and should not be given this authority.
The new regulations also rely on respirators to reduce fumigation workers' exposure during pesticide application and tarp repair. Yet CA DPR's respirator regulations are weaker than those set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the proposed regulations, and allow use of respirator cartridges that have not been evaluated by any government agency.
Methyl bromide is not the only dangerous fumigant in wide use in the state. Repeated drift episodes have sickened hundreds of rural residents in California, pointing to the urgent need for strong controls on all fumigants, including chloropicrin, metam sodium and metam potassium. Rather than relax methyl bromide regulations, the state should work to reduce dependence on all fumigants, because they are highly toxic, applied in large quantities, require highly complicated and error prone use procedures and as gases, are inherently hard to control.
Action Alert: Contact CA DPR and tell them to go back to the drawing board and issue truly health protective regulations for methyl bromide that will:
To submit comments or attend public hearings: visit the DPR website http://www.cdpr.ca.gov, click on "Laws and Regulations", then "Proposed Regulations." Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, faxed to 916-324-1452 or mailed to Linda Irokawa-Otani, CDPR, 1001 I Street, PO Box 4015, Sacramento, CA 95812.
Sources: Final report: Methyl Bromide Ambient Air Monitoring in Oxnard/Camarillo and Santa Maria, August--October, 2001, Applied Measurement Science, http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/empm/pubs/tac/tacpdfs/rpt_0402.pdf; Ambient Air Monitoring for Methyl Bromide and 1,3-Dichloropropene in Monterey/Santa Cruz Counties- Reports for Fall of 2000 and Fall of 2001, California Air Resources Board, http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/empm/pubs/tac/tacpdfs/mthdic13.pdf; Secondhand Pesticides, Airborne Pesticide Drift in California, 2003, PANNA, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLA), Pesticide Education Center, Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) http://www.panna.org; Use of Agricultural Pesticides and Prostate Cancer Risk in the Agricultural Health, Michael C. R. Alavanja, Claudine Samanic, Mustafa Dosemeci, et al, American Journal of Epidemiology, October, 2002; Fact Sheet: Methyl Bromide Use in California, PANNA.
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.