Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
March 22, 1999
A superior court judge has ordered the State of California to adopt regulations to protect the public from exposure to the fumigant methyl bromide. Judge David A. Garcia ruled in favor of four environmental groups — Pesticide Action Network, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth and Pesticide Watch — who filed suit last June against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).
The decision marks a turning point in California environmentalists’ long battle against methyl bromide, a highly volatile and acutely toxic pesticide gas that routinely drifts from farm fields into adjacent neighborhoods. The order requires DPR to adopt new regulations for field applications of methyl bromide — which could result in significant reductions in its use — and places in question the entire process the State has used in the annual re-registration of methyl bromide.
The judge found DPR in violation of a 1989 state law requiring adoption of clear, enforceable statewide regulations for methyl bromide use by April of that year. Instead, DPR developed an internal set of use “guidelines” that outlined the amount of the pesticide to be used per acre and the size of protective buffer zones around application sites. These guidelines have been administered by county agriculture commissioners and subject to change without public notice.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs will now draft an order for the judge to approve outlining steps DPR must take to comply with the ruling. At a minimum, DPR will be required to develop and adopt regulations by a specific date. Environmental, labor and community groups will participate in the regulation setting process.
Methyl bromide is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Category I toxic compound, a designation reserved for the most dangerous substances. It is known to cause nerve damage and birth defects in laboratory animals and even small doses are harmful to the lungs, kidneys, eyes and skin. Methyl bromide is also a potent destroyer of the Earth’s protective ozone layer, and by international treaty will be banned in the U.S. in 2005.
In California, methyl bromide is injected into the soil before planting such crops as strawberries, almonds and wine grapes. California uses more methyl bromide than any other state, with more than 17 million pounds applied in 1995, much of it in Central Coast strawberry fields. It is also commonly used in Southern California to fumigate buildings for insects.
In the last two decades, at least 19 people have died in California from exposure to methyl bromide in structural fumigation. More than 1,600 have been poisoned and hundreds evacuated from homes and schools after the toxic gas drifted from fields — even when applied according to the state’s guidelines.
Source: Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network, Pesticide Watch and Western Environmental Law Center press release, March 19, 1999.
Contact: Pesticide Action Network North America.