1st Coastal, Strawberry Application of Methyl Iodide Approved

Contact:
Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network
916-216-1082, ptowers@panna.org

October 14, 2011

1st Coastal, Strawberry Application of Methyl Iodide Approved

Santa Barbara County ag officials approve use of cancer-causing pesticide on same day lawsuit filed in court


SANTA BARBARA, CA —On the same day that environmental and farmworker organizations filed a lawsuit against the use of cancer-causing methyl iodide, Santa Barbara County officials approved the first application of the chemical along the California’s coast and in the state’s strawberry fields.

“Pesticide regulators have ignored their responsibility to protect health and the environment,” said Tracey Brieger, Co-Director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, a statewide coalition of over 185 environment and health organizations. “Rather than follow the science, local and state officials have caved to corporate pressure with the approval of an application of methyl iodide.”

On Wednesday, October 12, Santa Barbara County Agriculture Commissioner Cathy Fisher approved the use of the chemical on five acres of strawberry fields near Guadalupe, California, though the chemical has not yet been applied. On the same day, Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance filed the opening brief of their lawsuit on behalf of Pesticide Action Network (PAN), United Farm Workers and several other organizations aimed at keeping the fumigant methyl iodide out of California’s fields.

Residents along California’s Central Coast, especially children, often live, work and play near strawberry fields. In the neighboring town of Sisquoc, residents recently used PAN’s Drift Catcher to documenthigh levels of pesticide fumigant use drifting from the fields where they’re applied into communities. They detected chloropicrin, a chemical currently mixed with methyl iodide. Their reports demonstrate that residents aren’t protected even when the regulations are followed.

“While we were monitoring the air, there were no violations of the County’s permit — and yet we found we were still breathing chloropicrin at high levels,” says Deby DeWeese, one of the community members who collected air samples. “Clearly the rules and regulations do not protect our families.”

This application could become the fifth application of methyl iodide to take place in California since the Department of Pesticide Regulation approved it’s use last December, under tremendous pressure from the pesticide’s manufacturer, Arysta. The decisions to apply the chemical by the state agency as well as its local counterparts, the county agricultural commissioners, were made despite the warnings of independentscientists who reviewed the chemical and called it “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth”. As a result, GovernorBrown pledged to“take a fresh look”at the issue in March, though his administration has yet to act.

“The availability of a chemical that causes cancer, late-term miscarriages and permanent neurological damage in the fields is a ticking time bomb,“ said Dr. Susan Kegley, Consulting Scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “The idea that this pesticide can be used safely in the fields is a myth.”

Earlier this week, media outlets disclosedadditional documents that shine a light on how state officials ignored the findings of staff scientists, as well as the panel of external scientists convened to review the evidence, as DPR rushed to approve methyl iodide. “These were not science-based changes, “ said Dr. Paul Blanc of the University of California San Francisco, a scientific panel member.

In their opening brief asking to overturn registration of methyl iodide, litigants highlight how government regulators caved to corporate pressure:

The … decision of DPR management to approve Arysta’s methyl iodide-based pesticides is impossible to reconcile with its own staff’s analysis. Without identifying any alternative course of action, and without any rational scientific basis, DPR management deemed it acceptable to expose workers and residents to over 100-times more methyl iodide than its staff scientists determined would be safe. In further violation of law, DPR management approved methyl iodide without studying the extent to which the pesticide will pollute groundwater or cause birth defects, and without even consulting OEHHA [the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment] regarding the efficacy of measures adopted at the eleventh hour ostensibly to mitigate impacts to workers.

The opening brief was filed in Alameda County Court and addresses violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act.

###

Available for interviews:

Deby DeWeese, Sisquoc community member and Drift Catcher project implementer, Cell: (805) 478-6915, Email: deweese3@yahoo.com.

Anne Katten, MPH, Pesticide and Work Safety Specialist, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Office: (916) 204-2876, Email: akatten@crlaf.org.

Greg Loarie, attorney representing environmental and farmworker groups, Earthjustice, Office: (510) 550-6700 Email: gloarie@earthjustice.org.