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Pesticide Action Network: Paul Towers 916-216-1082
March 21, 2013
Diverse coalition urges State to create plan to meet international treaty obligations and transition off fumigant pesticides by 2020
Salinas, CA – One year after pesticidemaker Arysta LifeScience pulled cancer-causing methyl iodide from the market, a diverse group of community leaders called on California officials to maintain their commitments to phasing out neurotoxic methyl bromide and commit to helping farmers transition off pesticide fumigants by 2020.
Community leaders voiced concerns in response to a recent a letter authored by Matt Rodriguez, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), that urged federal officials to approve greater use of methyl bromide in the state. Despite being banned internationally more than 10 years ago because of its toxicity and ozone depleting properties, Rodriguez and other state officials have continued to ask for more use exemptions.
“We urge Matt Rodriguez and the EPA to put us back on the right course and end the use of methyl bromide as the rest of the world has done,” said Michael Marsh, attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance. “These exemptions are unnecessary and undermine the commitment California has made to transition away from fumigant pesticides.”
Central Coast community leaders expressed disappointment with the agency’s letter, given the state’s clear commitment to non-fumigant alternatives with removal of methyl iodide from the market. To this end, CalEPA facilitated the creation of the state’s non-fumigant working panel last year. Leaders urged the agency, as well as its Department of Pesticide Regulation, to follow-through on the support of fumigant alternatives, through the investment in new technologies, research and training programs. They also urged California EPA Secretary Matt Rodriguez to commit the agency to phasing out pesticide fumigants by 2020.
Gary Karnes, representative of Monterey County Safe Strawberries working group said, “Monterey is at the heart of strawberry country, and unfortunately methyl bromide use. Rodriguez and CalEPA have a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of residents and workers on the front lines of pesticide exposure. It is time for California to transition off of fumigants, protect community health, and meet our international treaty obligations by phasing out methyl bromide immediately.
Monterey County community leaders also announced the delivery of more than 15,000 public petitions addressed to Matt Rodriguez, emphasizing a commitment to the 2020 deadline. The petitions were largely collected by Pesticide Action Network and the United Farm Workers, and delivered later in the day to Rodriguez’ Sacramento office.
"We're proud to get the word out on this critical issue that is so important to all of us. As the largest agricultural state, California must set the example rather than continuing to put farm workers and rural families at risk. There are too many risks with Methyl Bromide and its use must stop," said UFW Vice President Erik Nicholson.
Methyl bromide is highly volatile, drifting away from application sites and affecting surrounding communities. It is also a neurotoxin and a developmental toxicant, which can cause birth defects. It is also a carcinogen. A 2002 study of prostate cancer among agricultural workers and professional pesticide applicators singled out methyl bromide for its increased prostate cancer risk, particularly related to higher exposures.
“Planned Parenthood Mar Monte stands with farmworker communities and Californians for Pesticide Reform in calling for a ban on the use of methyl bromide because as a health care provider we need to stand up and demand that our patients be protected from exposure to harm,” said Lupe Rodriguez, Director of Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. “Methyl Bromide is a chemical that studies have shown to cause birth defects, neurobehavioral problems and can permanently damage the nervous system and must be kept away from all individuals and families. ”
Strawberries are the principal crop dependent on methyl bromide, as well as many other fumigants in California, with a large amount of use on the Central Coast. And over 80% of the nation’s strawberries come from California. Other crops grown with large volumes of methyl bromide include raspberries, grapes, walnuts, tomatoes, and peaches.
Sustainable and organic farmers in California and in Europe already use fumigant alternatives, including crop rotation, bio-fumigants like broccoli and mustard plants, steam sterilization, soil solarization and integrated pest management strategies.
As strawberry farmer Jim Cochran noted last year, “Farmers need effective alternative tools to use in their fields” and support to help them transition away from the use of hazardous fumigants.
While methyl bromide looms large for many residents, additional pesticide fumigants also pose threats to local communities and economies. In 2010 alone, 3.95 million pounds of the fumigants chloropicrin, methyl bromide and Telone (1,3-D) were used in Monterey County, making it the county with the 6th highest pesticide use in the state.
“Methyl bromide is just one of many dangerous fumigants that should be phased out and replaced with safe alternatives,” said Veronica Diaz with the Central Coast Labor Council. “We need to be thinking about the long term health of the people who harvest our food and the planet.”
Figure 1. Regions of greatest methyl bromide use (California Department of Public Health, 2010)