Public comment will continue through June 14


Capital Press

SACRAMENTO -- California's Department of Pesticide Regulation expects to finalize registration of methyl iodide by autumn, over persistent objections from pesticide-watchdog and farmworker groups.

State officials are considering the chemical to replace methyl bromide, which has been phased out under international agreement to reduce ozone-depleting substances.

After a long scientific review, DPR director May-Ann Warmerdam announced on April 30 the state's registration proposal. DPR's proposed rules for using methyl iodide commercially include restrictions that are stronger than those imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S. EPA registered the pesticide in 2007. Most states do not conduct their own registrations, instead adopting EPA's rules.

DPR will take public comment on the proposed registration through June 14.

The contentious atmosphere surrounding the chemical led to a scientific review that is more rigorous than those for most chemicals. It involved conducting a risk assessment, a step that Warmerdam said is reserved for only a few cases.

The assessment was then peer-reviewed by state and federal environmental agencies, as well as a panel of university researchers.

The researchers released a report in February saying that although the state's conclusions were sound, methyl iodide could not be controlled in the field well enough to prevent worker exposure.

Meanwhile, commodity groups have said some farmers would be unable to compete without an effective soil fumigant, while farmworker and anti-pesticide groups have petitioned EPA to rescind its registration.

"We're very disappointed by DPR's decision to register methyl iodide," said Paul Towers, state director of the group Pesticide Watch. "I think it flies in the face of science."

The restrictions proposed by DPR are "not nearly enough to counter the danger that this pesticide poses," Towers said.

In the Capitol, legislative committees held hearings on the process as it drew out. Farmworkers told of past experiences with chemical exposure, while laboratory researchers described the substance as one of the most toxic they handle -- it is used for inducing cancer in lab specimens -- and said it poses serious risks in the field.

But crop researchers have said the chemical presents little danger if applied according to guidelines. DPR adopted that approach, while proposing the strongest restrictions in the country.

Warmerdam said that despite the "particularly challenging" urban-rural boundaries in California, the proposed rules -- involving buffer zones, application limits and local control in tailoring rules to specific regions -- would protect people and groundwater from exposure.

"If we could not assure ourselves that human exposure could be mitigated, we would not have made a proposed decision to register," Warmerdam said.

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