PANNA: California Pesticide Use Declines for Second Year in a Row


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California Pesticide Use Declines for Second Year in a Row
October 26, 2001

Pesticide reform advocates reacted with cautious optimism to new pesticide use reporting data for 2000 released by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) this week, showing a substantial decrease in many categories of reported pesticide use. Pesticide dependency continues to be a serious problem in California, with 22.9 million pounds of carcinogenic pesticides used across the state in 2000, or about three-quarters of a pound per Californian.

“The data do indeed show that overall pesticide use appears to be decreasing, most notably in the categories of carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxicants and neurotoxins,” said Susan Kegley, PhD, Staff Scientist for Pesticide Action Network North America. “It appears that public pressure, proactive farmers, concerns over surface water contamination and implementation of the federal Food Quality Protection Act are finally beginning to make a difference.”

There has been a continuing decrease in use of cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides, a category of nerve toxins. Two main factors are responsible for this decline.

First, implementation of the U.S. Food Quality Protection Act has removed some of these pesticides from use and has signaled the potential removal of others. Many growers, actively looking for alternatives, have started using less hazardous biopesticides like Bt, spinosad and insect attractant pheromones that disrupt the mating process for pest insects.

Second, concerns over surface water contamination have brought together the state government, regional water boards, grower groups, commodity boards, academics and sustainable agriculture groups to find ways to control pests that do not require neurotoxic pesticides. These successful efforts should now be expanded to other pesticides and other crops in order to accelerate continued pesticide use reduction statewide.

Despite declining pesticide use in many categories, use is increasing in some categories and regulatory action to control exposures is weak or missing altogether. Use of groundwater contaminating pesticides increased, as did the number of acres treated with these pesticides. Groundwater contaminant pesticides are those that have been found repeatedly in California groundwater. Proposed regulations exist that would create Ground Water Protection Areas across the state in areas where the type of soil increases the likelihood of groundwater contamination. Yet after two years of waiting DPR has not taken any action to finalize the proposed regulations.

Use of fumigants also remains a problem. The high toxicity of these gaseous pesticides, combined with their tendency to drift off-site and very high application rates (100-400 pounds per acre) make these pesticides among the most hazardous used in California. Although the use of soil fumigants metam sodium and methyl bromide declined substantially–by 4 million pounds and 5 million pounds, respectively–major problems persist with fumigant pesticides.

Pesticide use data for 2000 show that methyl bromide use is the lowest it has been since full pesticide use reporting began in 1990. Kegley noted, however, that when DPR monitored levels of methyl bromide in air that year, concentrations of the chemical exceeded levels classified as “safe” by DPR for subchronic (8 week) exposure periods. She said that in order to protect public health, this means that methyl bromide use must be even more drastically reduced, and only the complete ban now scheduled for 2005 can fully protect Californians from the toxic fumigant.

Increased use of substitute fumigant pesticides– including Telone (1,3-dichloropropene), chloropicrin, and metam potassium–suggests that some growers are reaching for equally hazardous replacement chemicals rather than developing more sustainable and less toxic alternatives.

Kelly Campbell, with Californians for Pesticide Reform, urged the California and U.S. governments to create regulations, incentives and resources that reward farmers who push for pesticide use reduction and adopt sustainable and organic farming methods.

Sources: Californians for Pesticide Reform press release, “Overall Pesticide Use Declines for Second Year in a Row,” October 25, 2001; DPR’s analysis and press release can be found at

Contact: PANNA.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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