Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Action Alert: Inadequate Methyl Bromide Regulations
In January 2000, California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) issued draft regulations covering many uses of the toxic pesticide methyl bromide. Unfortunately, the new regulations do not protect the public from this deadly pesticide. To gather public input, DPR will hold public hearings in March and will accept written comments on the proposed regulations. Letters and attendance at the hearings is urgently needed to convince state officials that nearby residents, school children and farmworkers must be protected from exposure to methyl bromide (MB).
In 1999, a coalition of environmental and health organizations won a State Superior court law suit, charging that the State’s previous methyl bromide guidelines were not uniform, enforceable regulations. The judge ordered Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to draft new statewide regulations. After reviewing the proposed regulations, environmental, health and farmworker organizations across the state are extremely disappointed. Instead of protecting the public from dangerous pesticides, the State has made no substantial changes in the old guidelines. The new regulations fall far short of protecting the health of farmworkers, children and the general public.
Methyl bromide is widely used in California to grow strawberries, grapes and other crops. In 1998, nearly 14 million pounds of methyl bromide was used in California, making it one of the largest methyl bromide-using regions in the world. Methyl bromide is a potent nerve toxin that is extremely dangerous to people and the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies the chemical as a Toxicity Category I toxin, and it has caused birth defects and brain/nervous system damage to laboratory animals. Methyl bromide, which depletes the Earth’s protective ozone layer, is scheduled to be phased out in industrialized countries in 2005.
Problems with the regulations
1. Schools: The new rules prohibit MB use near an “adjoining” school within 36 hours of classes. But DPR’s own monitoring has shown that elevated levels of MB can remain in the air more than 48 hours after fumigations. In addition, the regulations do not define how close “adjoining” schools are to fumigated fields and do not take into account the number of after-school and weekend activities on school property. This despite recommendations from state scientists that children, in particular, need a higher level of protection from methyl bromide.
2. Buffer zones: The minimum distance that must be maintained between fumigations and neighboring properties (such as residences and schools) was decreased from 100 feet in the previous guidelines to a 60 feet minimum in the new regulations. Even a 100 foot buffer zone is not adequate to protect public health. In addition, the regulations make no attempt to protect residents, children or workers from long-term exposure to methyl bromide.
3. Public notification: DPR is proposing that methyl bromide users notify sensitive sites (schools, homes, hospitals, etc) that are 300 feet from the buffer zone regarding upcoming MB use. This is inadequate since MB can drift more than 300 feet from fumigation sites, and notification is required only eight days before fumigation, allowing residents inadequate time to challenge the action. The proposal also requires notice only to property operators, ignoring renters, school staff, students and others who may be affected but do not own nearby property.
4. Worker safety: To protect farmworkers near fumigated fields, DPR has proposed a worker buffer zone of 50 feet. Independent scientists, however, have shown that this buffer zone should be at least 190 feet to adequately protect workers from short-term peak exposures of methyl bromide. The regulations do nothing to protect those working or living near fumigated fields and those assisting with fumigations against repeated or sub-chronic exposure.
1. Write a letter to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, protesting the Administration’s failure to protect the public from methyl bromide. (See sample letter on our Web site at http://www.panna.org). Send your comments to:
Fred Bundock, Department of Pesticide Regulation
2. Attend California DPR’s public hearings on methyl bromide in Fresno, Watsonville, Ontario or Ventura. Visit our Web site for times and locations.