Methyl iodide decision close
Updated: Sunday, March 14, 2010 12:18 AM
Chemistry professor says chemical too hard to control
By WES SANDER
An official with California's Department of Pesticide Regulation told a Senate panel that the state could decide whether to approve a new soil fumigant by the end of February.
Methyl iodide is being considered by state officials to replace methyl bromide, which has been phased out under international agreement due to its ozone-depleting properties.
A hearing on Monday, Feb. 8, of the Senate agriculture committee was billed as an examination of alternatives to chemical fumigants. But chairman Dean Florez, D-Shafter, spent much of the time discussing methyl iodide's risks -- ground that has been covered in recent months in legislative hearings as well as the state's review.
As part of its process, California's Department of Pesticide Regulation has commissioned a peer review of the science supporting registration. The agency has said its decision could hinge on the results of the review, conducted by University of California scientists.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered the pesticide in 2007. Every state except California, Washington and New York has since followed suit. Most states do not conduct their own registration processes.
Of the four scientists testifying at the hearing, three work for the University of California and one represents Pesticide Action Network North America, which opposes methyl iodide registration. They all said the chemical is too toxic a substance to be used safely in the field.
The chemical -- which is patented by the University of California and was previously used only for research, including such purposes as inducing cancer in laboratory cells -- is too difficult to control, said Neil Schore, a chemistry professor at University of California-Davis.
"I can't imagine (how it could be applied safely)," Schore said. "It just moves too fast."
Schore said methyl iodide has not been used long enough in the field to allow measuring its environmental impacts, although scientists say it would continue leaching into groundwater decades after application.
Two witnesses spoke for agriculture at the hearing, one a Central Coast organic grower, the other an industry official.
Robert Dolezal, executive vice president of the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers, told Florez that the growers in his San Joaquin Valley Senate district would "face certain extinction unless you act -- unless you urge DPR to register methyl iodide without further delay."
Without a soil fumigant, producers -- including organic growers -- would have no means of acquiring plant stock that is guaranteed free of nematodes, Dolezal said. Nematodes are soil pests for which the state conducts "zero-tolerance" enforcement, requiring uprooting of several acres of a crop if a single specimen is found.