California, don't ignore your scientists — again | Pesticide Action Network
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California, don't ignore your scientists — again

Paul Towers's picture

In a letter submitted yesterday, scientists called out California officials for downplaying evidence of health hazards — including cancer — posed by a widely used fumigant pesticide.

Often applied to the state's strawberry fields, new rules may pave the way for even more use of chloropicrin unless policymakers follow recommendations from both state and independent scientists. This story is all too familiar.

In 2011, PAN worked with attorneys at Earthjustice and researchers at California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation to reveal how state officials took a “mix-and-match” approach to the science of the cancer-causing fumigant methyl iodide. Documents showed that senior “risk mitigation” staff cherry-picked data from toxicologists and ignored the recommendations of independent scientists. The chemical was later approved, only to be taken off the market due to public outcry and health concerns.

And it appears that the same story is playing out under Governor Brown's Administration. Despite concerns about the cancer potential voiced by scientists at two different state agencies, as well as independent scientists, senior staff at the Department of Pesticide Regulation allow Californians to be exposed to chloropicrin at unsafe rates.

Susan Kegley, PhD, a consulting scientist with PAN, CEO of the Pesticide Research Institute, and co-author of the science letter explained it this way:

"The Department of Pesticide Regulation decisionmakers altered that conclusion on the basis of a statistical argument to allow more exposure to the chemical. The fact remains that the studies show chloropicrin is highly irritating and a potent carcinogen. DPR should be acting to prevent harm to California communities, not to allow more of it.”

The letter from scientists and health professionals was submitted as part of a convoluted process state officials have created to review chloropicrin, with the opportunity for public comments closing this weekend.

What science says

Based on the best available evidence, including the state’s research, chloropicrin stands out as a potent carcinogen. As scientists from California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment put it simply:

“Chloropicrin has been observed to induce gene mutations and chromosomal damage.”

That same agency noted that chloropicrin is 100 times more potent as a cancer-causing agent than formaldehyde and about 20 times more potent than benzene, a component of gasoline.

When officials ignored these findings, state scientists pushed back. Still, California decisionmakers continued to dismiss the science, especially around acute illness; they set allowable concentration levels of pesticide in the air at 25 times higher than those the agency’s own scientists say will prevent illness in children.

Better protections needed

It is clear that people living near or working in strawberry fields are not being adequately protected from chloropicrin. PAN and our partners are calling on California officials to adopt better health protections for those most affected by fumigant pesticide exposure, especially as state officials ignore the mounting evidence.

Since we shared these concerns at hearings across the state earlier this summer, the call for safe strawberry fields has been growing. Along with partner organizations — Environmental Working Group, Food and Water Watch, United Farm Workers, Safe Strawberry Working Group - Monterey County, Healthy Tehama Farms and the Center for Environmental Health — we delivered over 15,000 petitions, postcards and letters to officials in Oakland and Sacramento yesterday underscoring the need for these basic health protections:

  • Create "no fumigation" buffer zones that meet the scientific standard to protect vulnerable communities, especially children.
  • Replace standard tarps with modern tarps and prohibit all untarped applications involving chloropicrin.
  • Require comprehensive neighbor notification and comprehensive real-time fumigation monitoring.

California officials have some important decisions to make in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully they will follow, rather than ignore, the evidence presented by their own scientists — evidence underscored by other science and health professionals. It's time for more protection from drifting fumigant pesticides like chloropicrin. And it's time to invest in new technologies and practices that promote sustainable, fair and cutting-edge farming.

Paul Towers
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beachfeet13's picture
beachfeet13 /
<p><strong>I NEED HELP!!!!!</strong></p> <p>Sooooo, I'm pretty shook up about hearing that they will be planting strawberries in the field behind our home. Starting tomorrow morning, between 5-6am&nbsp; they will spray the first application of "Pic-Clor 60" with EPA approved tarpping. They will leave it to release the gasses for 9 days and remove the tarps to release the remaining trapped gases on day 10!</p> <p>My two oldest sons &amp; I have all suffered or are still suffering from terminal autoimmune diseases &amp; cancers, due to the Very Same environmental toxins found in the pesticides used for strawberry fields.</p> <p>I already know that probably makes my 2 youngest twin boys automatically, genetically predisposed to contracting these ugly diseases too.</p> <p>I can't, in good conscience, knowing what I know; allow my children or animals to be exposed these dangerous poisons that will soon coat our home &amp; lives. But what do I do? School has started! We can't just leave the area!</p> <p>I wanted to try to get it halted due to the close proximity of our home, but I fear it may be a losing battle. This is an agricultural community and we are smack in the middle of it! We have been told by the Ag control department, that they are within their "Right to Farm Act" rights and are permitted to fumigate safely under strict requirements. <strong>These requirements need to change! Where do I sign up to be part of it?!</strong><br /> (BTW We were under the impression, when we were considering renting this place, that the surrounding fields butting up to the rental property, were all organic. Some of them are...just not the closest one to our house &amp; barn!)</p> <p>The Monterey County Regulations of this pesticide say that it must only be used 100ft away from occupied buildings (it's probably exactly 100ft, but prevailing winds/breeze put us always downwind)<br /> And if it's to be applied within 1/8 of a mile (660ft) of a school, it must be done so outside of school hours and 36hrs before the children return.</p> <p>So what does that mean for children who LIVE less than 100ft from the field and are home daily?! And what about the contamination of our organically fed animals that we raise for food? Our chickens and their eggs? THAT is what I'm fighting &amp; where my concern lies too!</p> <p>Anyway, we have no choice but to leave &amp; may have to vacate our lease :( We will have to pay for a hotel &amp; for our animals to all be boarded.</p> <p>Do they really think that just because they knocked on my door &amp; warned me that they plan on poisoning us "some time over the next 2 wks" &amp; then repeatedly til harvest, it's all ok?!<br /> How can we be gone for 36 hours every 3 days? We live here!<br /> That's Ludicrous!!!!</p> <p>Children's Cancer research for cures is already pathetically underfunded, imagine how little attention the original CAUSES of these cancers get! We've spent almost a decade in hospitals &amp; trust when I tell you that at least 90% of the children &amp; families we've met on the cancer wards all over, were from ag areas!!!!!!!!</p> <p>I hope there is a solution to keep ours &amp; other's children, families &amp; animals safe, any ideas?This must stop! Please help pass it on. Our time is limited and we are taking on a multi-Billion dollar business!</p> <p>Should we vacate? Is there any hope of reimbursement, since they created a buffer keeping our house outside of the required 69ft?! <strong>I need an attorney and count me in on any law changing activities!!!&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Help! Thank You,</p> <p>Katrina Wetle</p> <p>More about us:<br /></p>
Paul Towers's picture
Paul Towers /
<p>Hi Katrina,</p> <p>Thanks for reaching out and sharing your story and so sorry to hear about what your family is facing. And you should know you are not alone. Communities across the country and especially on the Central Coast face pesticide threats on a regular basis and we&#39;re hear to help give you the information and support you need.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As you note, fumigant pesticides like chloropicrin are drift-prone and difficult-to-control. And clearly the current rules and regulations don&#39;t go far enough to protect our health, nor is enough being done to spur innovation in green, cutting-edge farming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to continue to push decisionmakers like the leaders of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, California Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Food and Agriculture to ask for greater restrictions on fumigants and greater funding support. Phone calls and emails go a long way. In addition,</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I&#39;ll also send you some infromation on attorneys, as well as groups on the Central Coast doing important work to reform the use of hazardous fumigant pesticides while promoting safer alternatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Please let me know if I can help in any other way.</p> <p>Best,</p> <p>Paul</p>
Paul Towers's picture

Paul Towers is PAN's Organizing and Media Director. He is the primary liaison with press and supports campaigns to protect bees, children’s health and challenge corporate control in the food system. He serves on the steering committee of Californians for Pesticide Reform, a statewide coalition that supports policy change for safer food and farming. Follow @PaulAtPAN