Pesticide that causes cancer and birth defects approved for use in California
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Pesticide that causes cancer and birth defects approved for use in California

Thursday, December 02, 2010By Richard Alexander
The use of the controversial fumigant methyl iodide was approved by the Department of Pesticide Regulation on Wednesday for use in California.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved methyl iodide for soil fumigation in 2007 as a replacement to methyl bromide, which was found to be harmful to the ozone. It was registered for use in 47 states; California was one of the three states that had not allowed its use in agriculture. Experts have linked methyl iodide to learning disabilities, birth defects and cancer.

Breathing methyl iodide fumes can cause lung, liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. It causes nausea, dizziness, coughing and vomiting. Prolonged contact with it causes skin burns. Massive inhalation causes pulmonary edema.

The announcement came after a campaign across the state urged the outgoing administration and incoming government of Gov.-elect Jerry Brown to continue a ban on methyl iodide in agriculture.

“We acknowledge there are strong and diverse opinions on methyl iodide registration,” said DPR director Mary-Ann Warmerdam in a news release. “Methyl iodide is a chemical designed to kill pests and soil-borne diseases. We based our decision on the risk assessment by our scientists and a risk-management process that determined what measures are required to keep exposures to methyl iodide within safe levels.”

The DPR will request emergency regulations to make methyl iodide a restricted chemical that will require a permit to use. Other restrictions for the material will include creating larger buffer zones and stronger protections for farmworkers. The fumigant will most likely be available for use by the end of December.

Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, said methyl iodide is harmful to workers and the restrictions are unclear, possibly expensive and difficult to enforce.

“The process by which a grower requires a permit costs the taxpayer money and requires funding,” Kegley said during a teleconference on the issue.

Romelia Garcia with Lideres Campesinas said she was disappointed with the decision to register methyl iodide, but will continue to pressure the government to not use it.

“Were going to keep working and fighting until we can make a change,” said Garcia, a former farmworker. “Farmworkers don’t get any protection for themselves, they are the ones that pay the consequences.”

Strawberry farmers will likely be the biggest users of the fumigant.

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