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02.24.10

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Plain Old Poison

By Traci Hukill


How bad does a pesticide have to be before the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) bans it? We'll soon find out. Earlier this month, a scientific review committee released a report on the fumigant methyl iodide, created by chemical company Arysta as an alternative to methyl bromide, for use in strawberry fields.

The report was so scholarly as to obfuscate the urgency of the situation. We took a whack at translating a few key passages.

"It is abundantly clear from basic chemistry that methyl iodide reacts readily with macromolecules, including with DNA, creating long-lasting changes. "

Translation: This shit causes cancer!

"[L]arge variability in achieved protection is observed even through rigorous respirator application (e.g., under controlled experimental conditions)."

Translation: Even the guy in the lab with the well-fitting respirator got a blast of it in the tests.

"From [farmworker] testimony (predominantly from a group organized by growers), it was abundantly clear that respiratory protection, despite strict regulations on paper, is commonly inappropriate, inadequate or inaccessible."

Translation: The farmworkers brought in by their bosses to testify didn't know what a respirator was, much less how to use one.

"Based on the data available, we know that methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical and we expect that any anticipated scenario for the agricultural or structural fumigation use of this agent would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health."

Translation: Spraying this uncontainable poison will make a lot of people very ill.

Dr. Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, says methyl iodide is more acutely toxic than methyl bromide and could cause cancer, thyroid disease and late miscarriages. She was also at the hearing in September 2009, when field workers testified about the sufficiency of the safety training they'd received, inadvertently revealing just the opposite.

"What became clear during the hearing is that the workers didn't know what a respirator was. It was a very telling moment when they said, 'What kind of mask did you use?' And they said, 'Oh, one of those ones made of paper.'"

The report will help the policymakers at the DPR, which has come under pressure from lobbyists, decide whether to register methyl iodide as an allowable pesticide in California. That decision could in turn affect whether or not the DPR's federal counterparts at the EPA will revoke their approval of methyl iodide, granted in October 2007. After public outcry, the EPA announced last September it would reopen its consideration of the pesticide pending the scientific review panel's report. Stay tuned.


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