We Did It! Cancer-Causing Methyl Iodide Kicked Off US Market

Image courtesy of PANNA

PSR-LA’s members and allies have advocated for years to prohibit the use of the cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide, which state scientist reviewers have called, “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth”. This week, pesticide manufacturer Arysta LifeScience yielded to mounting pressure and pulled methyl iodide off the U.S. market. “This is an important victory for the health of California’s farmworker communities, consumers across the whole nation, and is a boost to the movement finding non-toxic ways to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to table. Science and the public interest have prevailed over years of money and influence from the profit-driven pesticides industry,” says Martha Dina Argüello, PSR-LA’s executive director.

Farmworkers near methyl iodide fumigation sites would have significant risk for miscarriages and nervous system effects. Exposure to methyl iodide is linked to severe health concerns, including miscarriages and cancer. Scientists are concerned that it would contaminate groundwater, and state agencies estimate that workers could be exposed to 3000 times the “acceptable” dose.

Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR), a coalition of more than 185 organizations, has brought together farmworkers, grassroots groups, frontline community reproductive health clinics, farmers, legal organizations, labor unions, online organizing experts, policy specialists and preeminent scientists working towards the shared goals of eliminating toxic pesticides since 1996. PSR-LA chairs this coalition, which generated enough public pressure to catalyze national victory by mobilizing more than 60,000 public comments to California decision-makers and over 200,000 public comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, calling for the ban of methyl iodide in California and nationally. Strong resolutions to ban methyl iodide also came from the California Labor Federation, California Federation of Teachers, the California Democratic Party, and Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Dozens of lawmakers also signed a letter to Governor Brown, urging the immediate suspension of methyl iodide in California.

CPR is party to a lawsuit against Arysta LifeScience, and today, we know that this pressure made decision-makers and powerful private interests listen. We will continue our legal strategies to ensure that down the road this dangerous chemical is not reintroduced in California or anywhere else.

The state’s vulnerability to corporate pressure has often threatened California’s ability to make science-based decisions that protect the health of farmworkers and surrounding communities. In the face of major scientist concerns and public disapproval, Bush administration officials approved methyl iodide in 2007, while the outgoing Schwarzenegger administration approved its use in California in December 2010. A panel of internationally renowned scientists convened by California’s DPR conducted a formal review of methyl iodide that concluded that because of its high toxicity, any agricultural use of methyl iodide “would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health,” and that “adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.” Since the US EPA approved its use, New York and Washington have declined to register this pesticide. California — whose strawberry fields represent the pesticide’s largest potential market — has been the final, pivotal holdout preventing methyl iodide from gaining a real foothold in the US agricultural market.

Arysta’s methyl iodide sales have been weak, as scientific and public concern over its use has remained strong, and farmers did not readily adopt the chemical. As of early 2011, Arysta indicated in a comment letter to U.S. EPA that methyl iodide had been used on 15,000 acres in the U.S. since it was registered in October of 2007. The treated acreage represents less than one percent of the total number of acres that could have potentially been treated with the pesticide.

Thank you for your advocacy to help make this happen! This is an important victory for our health, the environment, and future generations.

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