On Monday, Oct. 24, California strawberry fields may get their first dose of methyl iodide, exposing neighboring residents to the cancer-causing pesticide.
County officials granted the permit last week, the same day PAN and the United Farm Workers filed a lawsuit against the state and pesticide manufacturer Arysta LifeScience.
Weak laws and a lack of enforcement make it next to impossible to protect rural residents and workers from airborne pesticide drift, even when all the protective measures are followed. So why did the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner approve the use of methyl iodide, even though scientists have called it "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth?"
Clearly the rules and regulations do not protect our familiesDeby DeWeese, community member who collected air samples in Sisquoc
The law allows local commissioners to make decisions that are in the best interests of county residents. They can deny permits. “Local and state pesticide regulators have a special responsibility to protect the health and safety of residents, their water and the environment,” said Kathryn Gilje, Co-Executive Director of PAN. "That's what they're there for."
This option to protect communities from risk of harm has evidently been ignored with the application slated for Monday outside Guadalupe, California.
In many cases, the laws and regulations aren’t enough to protect rural residents; because the rules on the books don't address the realities in the field. Equipment fails. Tarps fly off or rip. Winds prevail. Groundwater is contaminated. Pesticides later volatilize to land on nearby schoolyards.
For these reasons and more, residents along the Central Coast have called out the use of drift-prone fumigants like methyl bromide and chloropicrin on fields near homes and schools. One group of residents in the town of Sisquoc used PAN’s Drift Catcher to document the airborne drift of these fumigants.
Deby DeWeese is one of the community members who collected air samples in Sisquoc. Her summary of findings: “Clearly the rules and regulations do not protect our families.”
The reliance on fumigation technology promises has caused many officials to think that residents are protected from chemicals like methyl iodide. According to the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, there’s little to worry about because of the use of “totally impenetrable tarps”. Actually, they are rated "virtually impermeable tarps," and they fly off.
"Virtually" is not enough good enough for rural residents.
With this proposed first application of methyl iodide on the Central Coast, scientists and a large number of farmer, health and environmental organizations are redoubling efforts to convince Governor Jerry Brown to take swift action to pull methyl iodide off the market. Meanwhile, Governor Brown is interviewing candidates to serve as the much-needed chief of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation who will have to take this issue on in short order.
Last week, media outlets disclosed additional documents that shine a light on how state officials, in their rush to approve methyl iodide, changed the recommendations of their own staff scientists and ignored the concerns of the panel of external scientists they'd convened to review the evidence. “These were not science-based changes," said Dr. Paul Blanc of the University of California San Francisco, a member of the external scientific panel.
As PAN previously reported, state officials used a ‘mix-and-match’ approach to setting restrictions when they approved methyl iodide. As attorneys representing PAN from Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance said in their opening brief filed last week: the state acted "without any rational scientific basis".