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Washington State Denies State Registration of Methyl Iodide

(Beyond Pesticides, July 20, 2010) Washington state has denied approval of the highly toxic fumigant-based pesticide methyl iodide, and environmentalists hope other regulators follow its lead. Citing unreasonable adverse effects on human health and the environment, the Washington Department of Agriculture requested that Arysta LifeScience withdraw its application for the registration of methyl iodide on July 15, 2010. Beyond Pesticides encourages its California members and allies to contact the Governor’s office and ask that California, which is expected to make its final decision on the pesticide this month, follow Washington’s lead. All are encouraged to contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ask that it reevaluate its decision to register methyl iodide. Find instructions for contacting the governor and EPA below.

In a letter to Arysta LifeScience, Erik Johansen, Special Pesticide Registration Program Coordinator for the Washington Department of Agriculture stated, “WSDA is concerned that the proposed use of Midas products labeled in Washington could cause unreasonable adverse effects on human health and the environment.” Specific concerns stated in the letter include: potential for groundwater contamination; lack of data related to the pesticide’s ability to damage brain development; and cancer risk.

Methyl iodide is promoted by the pesticide industry as a replacement for methyl bromide, which is due to be phased out because it depletes the ozone layer. While methyl iodide does not deplete the ozone layer, it is more toxic to humans and likely to contaminate ground water. Health effects include late-term miscarriages, potential to cause damage to developing brains, and cancer. Methyl iodide is so reliably carcinogenic that scientists use it to induce cancer cells in the lab.

As evidenced by a thriving organic industry, alternatives to fumigants exist and are in use in California and around the country. Instead of using methyl iodide or methyl bromide, organic alternatives include solarization, anaerobic soil disinfestation, crop rotation, biological controls, selective breeding, soil steaming, hydroponics, and steam treatment for containerized plants.

Despite significant public and scientific concern, EPA registered methyl iodide in 2007, during the final days of the Bush administration. Since then, controversy has surrounded the pesticide. New York was the first state to decline to register methyl iodide, Washington is the second, and opponents hope California will be the third. California proposed approving the fumigant in April 2010, but is reviewing public comments before making a final decision. Florida recently approved the chemical with additional use restrictions. Environmental and public health advocates believe that blocking methyl iodide registration in California will prevent its use elsewhere, since the state will account for the vast majority of usage and profitability nationwide.

“We’re so glad Washington did the right thing. Let’s hope California follows the science, too,” said Susan Kegley, PhD, a consulting chemist with Pesticide Action Network. Martha Dina Arguello, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, said, “As Governor Schwarzenegger enters his final months of office, it’s hard to imagine he would allow more cancer, more miscarriages, contaminated drinking water, and a good chance of more developmental brain damage to be his legacy.”

On the national front, a coalition of environmental, health and labor organizations, with legal representation by the non-profit group Earthjustice, filed a petition on March 31 asking EPA to rescind the Bush administration era approval of methyl iodide, in light of troubling new findings uncovered in California studies. Methyl iodide is a water contaminant, nervous system poison, thyroid toxicant and is listed on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. It can readily become a gas and drift away from its intended target, despite any efforts to contain it. Methyl iodide is primarily used on tomato and strawberry fields. “A chemical used to create cancer cells in laboratories has no place being broadcast into the environment near where people live, work and play,” said Ed Zuroweste, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Migrant Clinicians Network. “Our communities are not lab rats.”

Methyl iodide is promoted by the largest privately–held pesticide company in the world, Arysta LifeScience. The corporation has recently invested significant resources in lobbying and a communications campaign in California in order to secure registration in one of the most lucrative potential markets in the nation. If approved, methyl iodide would be used as a soil fumigant in the state’s strawberry fields, where it would applied as a gas at up to 125 lbs per acre.

In 2007, a group of over 50 eminent scientists, including five Nobel Laureates, sent a letter of concern to EPA about methyl iodide explaining, “Because of methyl iodide’s high volatility and water solubility, broad use of this chemical in agriculture will guarantee substantial releases to air, surface waters and groundwater, and will result in exposures for many people. In addition to the potential for increased cancer incidence, EPA’s own evaluation of the chemical also indicates that methyl iodide causes thyroid toxicity, permanent neurological damage, and fetal losses in experimental animals.” The letter concludes, “It is astonishing that the Office of Pesticide Programs is working to legalize broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment.”

Take Action: Join the Nobel Laureates, farmworker advocacy groups, environmental organizations and individuals living near the fields where methyl iodide will be used to call for an end to this extremely hazardous pesticide. California residents – Call Governor Schwarzenegger and demand that methyl iodide not be used, 916-445-2841. Everyone – Call the office of Steve Owens, EPA Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, and tell EPA to reevaluate its decision to register methyl iodide, 202-564-2902.

Conventional chemical-based agriculture often poses risks to farmworkers, farm families and others living near agricultural areas. Because of these risks, as well as the health impacts to consumers and adverse environmental impacts, Beyond Pesticides encourages people to eat organic food whenever possible. Learn more about why eating organic is the right choice on Beyond Pesticides new Eating with a Conscience website.


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