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Many groups sue to block fumigant

Published on January 6, 2011 1:34AM

Last changed on February 3, 2011 8:58AM

Methyl iodide 'most evaluated pesticide in the department's history,' chief says


Capital Press

Anti-pesticide and farmworker interests have sued to prohibit commercial use of methyl iodide in California.

In December, California's Department of Pesticide Regulation announced a decision to allow the chemical's use as a soil fumigant in the state. The suit was filed Dec. 30 in Alameda County Superior Court by Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, several anti-pesticide groups and two farmworkers.

Methyl iodide is meant to replace methyl bromide, which has been phased out under an international agreement to reduce ozone-depleting emissions. Strawberry, grape and orchard producers have said they need a cost-effective, broad-spectrum fumigant to stay competitive.

Plaintiffs say they want methyl iodide permanently prohibited in California. In papers filed Dec. 30, they asked the court to bar DPR from allowing the chemical by any other means while the case is pending.

"If this decision is allowed to stand, strawberries may very well become the new poster child for giving farmworkers cancer and late-term miscarriages," Erik Nicholson, national vice president of United Farm Workers, said in a statement.

The state's consideration of the chemical stretches back to 2007, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered it. Most states don't conduct their own investigations before following suit, instead deferring to EPA's work. Only Washington and New York have yet to approve methyl iodide.

Once it decided to register the substance, DPR used an emergency process to more swiftly allow it onto the market. The suit accuses the agency of using the emergency process to bypass public involvement.

It also accuses DPR of trying to get methyl iodide into the hands of farmers before Gov. Jerry Brown took office on Jan. 3, suggesting Brown's administration might have been more skeptical of claims made by Arysta LifeScience, the Tokyo-based chemical giant marketing methyl iodide products.

The state's investigation of the chemical involved several hearings, and DPR said it received 50,000 comments on the draft approval published in April.

Agency Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam called methyl iodide the "most evaluated pesticide in the department's history." DPR's process involved having its study reviewed by other agencies as well as a panel of researchers, a step not normally included.

The regulation classifies the chemical, also known as iodomethane, as "restricted," the most tightly controlled of DPR's classifications. It means applicators must have approval from county agricultural commissioners before applying it, and commissioners can implement local rules that are more strict than those of the state.

Laboratory scientists have described methyl iodide as highly toxic, saying it's too dangerous to be used outside a lab. Extension researchers have downplayed risks, saying the chemical quickly goes inert and does not significantly pollute ground water.


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