Methyl iodide primed for release; CNN features "Toxic America"; Dole urges workers to settle; Pesticide tragedy in Utah...
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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- Help PAN hold the line against methyl iodide
- CNN features "Toxic America"
- Dole urges workers sterilized by pesticides to settle
- 3,500+ violations & 2 deaths later, Utah agency pays attention
Three years ago, the extraordinarily toxic pesticide methyl iodide was quietly registered by the Bush Administration’s EPA – despite public outcry and opposition by leading scientists from around the country. Pesticide Action Network has worked with partners in an ongoing campaign to reverse the decision ever since. So far, we’ve kept methyl iodide out of the fields in its biggest potential market, California, for 900-plus days, and we’re pushing EPA for a federal reversal. But the outcome is far from clear. Our coalition has demanded independent scientific review of this chemical, and the findings of California’s Scientific Review Committee were unequivocal: protecting people from exposure to this highly carcinogenic pesticide “would be difficult, if not impossible.” Yet the CA Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has announced it plans to approve methyl iodide anyway at the end of June. Media outlets ranging from Associate Press to the San Francisco Chronicle and Grist have covered the controversial decision in the last week. Methyl iodide is promoted by the largest privately–held pesticide company in the world, Arysta LifeScience. They’ve pressured Governor Schwarzenegger to push DPR to register the fumigant despite the findings of the department’s own scientists, and the corporation is spending untold dollars to secure a California market for the highly profitable new poison.
We can't outspend Arysta, but we can and will stay in the fight. To this end PAN launched a fundraising campaign to support ongoing work on methyl iodide. Please consider giving what you can to keep PAN doing what we do best – keeping toxic chemicals out of our waterways, food and bodies.
On June 2nd and 3rd, CNN aired "Toxic America," a special investigative report detailing the prevalence and invisibility of hazardous chemicals we are all exposed to in our homes, air, water and food. "For 80 percent of the common chemicals in everyday use in this country we know almost nothing about whether or not they can damage the brains of children, the immune system, the reproductive system, and the other developing organs," noted Dr. Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician and director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The first hour of the CNN report presented the struggle by residents of Mossville, Louisiana to regain their right to live in a healthy environment despite being surrounded by 14 chemical plants. Mossville has an astounding cancer cluster, clearly linked to the contamination of the air, water and ground beneath residents’ homes. The investigation was aided by Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a DC-based public interest law firm and Pesticide Action Network ally working with groups particularly in the Gulf states.
The second hour of the CNN report focuses on food contamination. By eating any one of the 12 most contaminated fruits or vegetables featured on the program, consumers risk ingesting between 47 and 67 different pesticides; and this result is after the produce has been washed with a high power pressure water system by USDA analysts. According to PAN’s pesticide residue database, What’sOnMyFood.org, a single serving apple may contain carcinogens, suspected hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, and developmental and reproductive toxins. CNN points out that consumers can avoid up to 80 percent of dietary pesticide exposures simply by buying organic versions of what the Environmental Working Group calls the “Dirty Dozen” produce items. Not covered in the story were dangers posed to farmers, farmworkers and their families who remain exposed to pesticides applied during the full production cycle of even those foods that retain the least residues. Also not covered was the fact that pesticides used on fields often make their way into drinking water. Thus purchasing produce with fewer pesticides on the final product will not necessarily reduce our exposure from drinking water. Sweet corn, for example, typically retains minimal pesticide residue. Yet atrazine, a known hormone disruptor and ubiquitous herbicide used predominately on corn, is found in 94% of tested U.S. drinking water.
Dole Food Company is asking the Los Angeles Superior Court to allow some 1,500 Honduran agricultural workers who are suing the company for exposing them to dangerous pesticides to drop their suits and settle in a pre-existing claims program, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal. The issue at hand is Dole’s use of the highly toxic pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP), commercial name Nemagon. EPA banned DBCP on all fruit besides pineapples in the late ‘70s in the U.S. when it became clear that it was directly linked to male sterility. But Dole continued to use it through 1980, in at least Nicaragua. Tens of thousands of workers in Honduras and other Central American countries were exposed and were made sterile as a result. Facing over 2,000 claims for damages, the company established a settlement process known as the Honduran Worker Program in 2006 with the approval of the Honduran government. Previously workers who were suing Dole could not participate in the program, but the company now says that allowing claimants to settle this way could save years of litigation and would allow the workers to get their money sooner.
Lawyers representing the workers, however, worry that Dole is merely trying to sidestep their responsibility to the workers. To use the program, claimants would first receive $100 for signing a release of all claims against the company, and then have to prove exposure to DBCP while employed by Dole and submit to a physical exam and medical questionnaire. Depending on the level of sterility, the worker would receive between $1,500 and $5,800 as compensation for damages. The lawyers point out that of the 1,000 applicants to the program so far, only 58 have been paid, and that “the workers, most of whom have little formal education, have to go without legal representation, submit to invasive medical tests and prove 30-year-old facts to a multinational corporation armed with high-paid lawyers, doctors and other representatives.”
$32,000 -- that's how much the Utah Department of Agriculture (UTA) has proposed fining Bugman Pest and Lawn, Inc. for more than 3,500 violations of pesticide regulations, including a misapplication of Fumitoxin that claimed two lives. As PANUPS previously reported, Rebecca and Rachel Toone (ages 4 years and 15 months) were killed in February after the company placed Fumitoxin pellets in rodent burrows around the Toone's Utah home. The applicator broke federal law in using the deadly poison within 15 feet of an occupied structure and in using much more of it than specified on the product label. The employee who actually treated the Toone's yard also faces a maximum fine of $27,000 and will probably lose his license. The litany of violations were discovered by the UTA during its investigation of the girls' deaths. UTA found misapplications of Fumitoxin and another rodenticide, and discovered that on 53 occasions in the year leading up to the fatal incident, Bugman failed to create fumigant management plans when it used Fumitoxin. According the Salt Lake Tribune, six Bugman technicians received warning letters from UTA in 2008, and the company or individual technicians were cited three times in 2009.
"This is a clear illustration of how broken our system of enforcing pesticide regulations really is," said Pesticide Action Network staff scientist Karl Tupper. "If you racked up 3,500 parking tickets, you'd expect it to cost you a lot more than $32,000. And even after previous warnings and citations, it took the death of two small children to compel UTA to take a careful look at Bugman's records. Unfortunately, Utah's meager fines and failure to adequately police applicators is typical of state agencies that are supposed to be enforcing pesticide regulations."