Brown Appoints New Chief Pesticide Regulator

CONTACT:

Tracey Brieger, Californians for Pesticide Reform
tracey@pesticidereform.org, Cell: 415-215-5473

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

February 2, 2012

 

Brown Appoints New Chief Pesticide Regulator

Coalition urges new leadership to follow science, ban methyl iodide and support safe and sustainable alternatives to pesticides

SACRAMENTO, CA—Today, Brian Leahy, a former farmer and staffer to the California Department of Conservation, was appointed Director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), a move that ends an eleven-month vacancy for the State’s chief pesticide regulator. Leahy will have the opportunity to repair the image of a tarnished department, criticized for ignoring science and the protection of public health, and to reconsider the Schwarzenegger Administration’s controversial approval of cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide. The director is charged with promoting safe and sustainable alternatives to pesticides in fields, schools and homes.

“The state needs a visionary director who will lead California towards green pest management, without the use of highly hazardous pesticides. We hope that Leahywill take on this challenge and work with growers, farmworkers and rural communities to make it a reality,” said Paul Towers, spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network. “In particular, Leahy must show his commitment to public health protection and scientific integrity by immediately suspending all uses of methyl iodide and reversing the approval of this cancer-causing fumigant.”

In December 2010, DPR approved the use of methyl iodide, ignoring concerns voiced by both a panel of independent scientists and the agency’s staff scientists. One independent scientist going so far as to call it “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” citing research that methyl iodide causes cancer, late-term miscarriages and contaminates groundwater. Over 200,000 scientists, farmers and environmentalists sent comments to the US Environmental Protection Agency in May asking the federal agency to listen to the science and ban the pesticide nationally. While Washington State used the research to reject methyl iodide, federal regulators have suggested that they are waiting on California in order to determine their next steps.

While only a handful of applications have been made in California over the past year, the state used over 173 million pounds of agricultural pesticides in 2010. About one-third of these are among the most hazardous pesticides on the market, including those that cause cancer, birth defects, slow children’s development, harm the nervous system and contaminate groundwater. Many more pesticides are used every year in the state’s homes, schools, and parks.

The new director will also be tasked with reducing smog-forming pesticide emissions in the San Joaquin and Ventura air basins, ramping up enforcement efforts to protect farm workers and rural residents, supporting safe alternatives to pesticides in the state’s public schools and reforming the pesticide regulatory process to ensure that decisions are science-based and protective of health and the environment.

“This is an opportunity for a new day at DPR. Previous directors have all too often caved to industry pressure and rubber-stamped pesticides instead of safeguarding health and promoting a vibrant agricultural system,” said Tracey Brieger, Co-Director of Californians for Pesticide Reform. “Sticking to the science and promoting safe alternatives will reduce pesticide use, protect children’s health and support climate-friendly agriculture. With strong leadership, Leahy can make DPR an engine of innovation, economic stability and improved safety.”

California leads the country in organic farming, without the use of pesticides, with over 430,000 acres in production and average annual growth of 15%. Leahy has an opportunity to support organic and conventional growers to determine where the opportunities are to reduce pesticide and ensure California’s vibrant agricultural economy.

Over 185 public interest groups are members of the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform. The coalition’s Healthy Children & Green Jobs: A Platform for Pesticide Reform outlines priority recommendations for how the Brown Administration and Leahy can protect health and ensure the success of agriculture in California.

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Available for interviews

Paul Towers, Organizing and Media Director, Pesticide Action Network, 916-216-1082, ptowers@panna.org. Steering Committee member of Californians for Pesticide Reform, and represents national and international pesticide reform organization and network.

Anne Katten, Pesticide and Work Safety Specialist, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, 916-204-2876, akatten@crlaf.org. Steering Committee member of Californians for Pesticide Reform, expert on farmworker health and safety.

Tracey Brieger, Co-Director, Californians for Pesticide Reform, 415-215-5473, tracey@pesticidereform.org. Co-Director of coalition representing over 185 organizations in California dedicated to pesticide reform and sustainable agriculture.

Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility–Los Angeles, 310-261-0073, marguello@psr-la.org. Steering Committee member of Californians for Pesticide Reform and represents medical and public health advocacy organization.