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California’s Pesticide Use Declined Again, Yet Millions of Toxic Pesticides Continue To Be Used

(Beyond Pesticides, January 18, 2010) Pesticide use declined in California for a fourth consecutive year in 2009 according to the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), yet despite the viability of organic agriculture, millions of pounds of highly toxic pesticides continue to be used unnecessarily throughout the state.

The Summary of Pesticide Use Report Data 2009 estimates that approximately 162 million pounds of reported pesticides were applied statewide, a decrease of nearly 8 million pounds or 5 percent from 2008. Pesticide use in production agriculture fell by 5.1 million pounds and in most other categories as well, including post-harvest treatments, structural pest control and landscape maintenance. Reports are mandatory for agricultural and pest control business application, however most home, industrial and institutional uses are exempt.

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

California also leads with the most certified organic cropland, with over 430,000 acres, largely used for fruit and vegetable production according to updated data posted by USDA and an averaged 15 percent certified organic cropland acreage annual growth between 2002 and 2008.

DPR Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam emphasized that pesticide use varies from year to year depending on a number of factors, including weather, pest problems, economics and types of crops planted. Increases and decreases in pesticide use from one year to the next or in the span of a few years do not necessarily indicate a general trend. A wet winter, for example, may result in more pesticide use to control excessive weeds.

“The winter and spring of 2009 was relatively dry, which probably resulted in less weed and disease pressure,” Ms. Warmerdam said. “Fumigants showed the greatest drop in pounds and acres treated, which also may be due to increased environmental and regulatory concerns.” In 2008, DPR expanded its restrictions on agricultural fumigant applications in areas of the state that don’t meet federal air quality standards. The intent was to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions from pesticides. VOCs combine with nitrogen oxides in sunlight to form ozone, a major air pollutant.

Overall, fumigant use fell in 2009 by 5.4 million pounds, or 14 percent and 6,000 acres treated, or 2 percent. Use of five of the six major fumigants declined: 1,3-dichloropropene(1,3-D), potassium N-methyldithiocarbamate, metam-sodium and methyl bromide.

Even though highly-toxic fumigant sulfuryl fluoride rose in 2009, use is expected to decline. This is due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s recent response to the June 2006 petition submitted by Beyond Pesticides, Fluoride Action Network, and Environmental Working group, EPA has announced that it proposes to eliminate the use of sulfuryl fluoride in agriculture and food related products. However, despite granting the petition’s assertion that total public exposure to fluoride is too high, EPA has denied the petition’s request for an immediate stay of all registered uses of sulfuryl fluoride.

In 2009, as in previous years, sulfur was the most highly used pesticide in both pounds applied and acres treated. By pounds, sulfur accounted for 27 percent of all reported pesticide use. It increased by 1.6 million pounds, or 4 percent, and 65,000 acres, or 1.5 percent. Sulfur is a natural fungicide by both conventional and organic farmers mostly to control powdery mildew on grapes and processing tomatoes.

Major crops that showed an overall increase in pounds of pesticides applied over the previous year included processing tomatoes, wine grapes, pomegranates and pistachios. Major crops that showed an overall decline in pounds applied included carrots, table and raisin grapes, cotton, oranges and almonds. While pounds of pesticides used on almonds and oranges dropped, acres of these crops treated increased, augmenting pesticide exposure to farm workers. Unfortunately, farm worker pesticide poisoning is not uncommon, with several incidents related to these crops above.

The top five counties in order of most pesticide pounds applied in 2009 were Fresno, Kern, Tulare, San Joaquin and Monterey. All are major producers of agricultural products.

Other details from DPR’s 2009 pesticide report that compares 2008 to 2009:
• Use of chemicals classified as toxic air contaminants, most of which are older compounds of high regulatory concern because of their toxicity, declined by 6.7 million pounds and 235,000 acres treated, or 18 percent and 8 percent, respectively. These chemicals are used in a variety of crops.
• Use of chemicals classified as reproductive toxins declined by 998,000 pounds and 146,000 acres treated, or 6 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
• Use of chemicals classified as probable or known carcinogens declined by 4.5 million pounds and280, 000 acres treated, or 19 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
• Use of chemicals classified as ground water contaminants declined in use by 182,000 pounds and 114,000 acres treated, or 14 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
• Use of oil pesticides declined by 1.7 million pounds and 126,000 acres, or 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively. Most oils serve as an alternative to highly toxic pesticides and used by organic farmers.
• Use of cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides continued to decline in use as they have for nearly every year since 1995. The two main classes of these pesticides are organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. From 2008 to 2009, use decreased by 881,000 pounds, or 17 percent, and 918,000 acres, or 21 percent.

Although any decline in toxic pesticide use is noteworthy, it should be noted that despite the viability of organic agriculture, millions of pounds of highly toxic pesticides continue to be used unnecessarily throughout the state. Besides the pesticide highlighted above, pesticides like glyphosate, methyl bromide, pendimethalin, chlorpyrifos, and paraquat-dichloride are some of the top 25 pesticides used in the state. These pesticides are linked to a myriad of adverse health effects including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and reproductive effects.

Since these pesticides are used in conventional agriculture, our food choices have a direct effect on the health of our environment and those who grow and harvest what we eat. That’s why food labeled organic is the right choice. In addition to serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, protection of farm workers and farm families, and stewardship of the earth. See our Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience guide for further information.

DPR has the most extensive pesticide use reporting system in the United States. For more information on California’s 2008 pesticide use statistics, see California DPR’s website.

Take Action: Contact your state pesticide-regulatory agency and ask them to produce a report like California’s for your state. Contact the elected officials of your state and ask that this information be collected and readily available to the public.

There are alternatives to toxic pesticides available for a wide range of pests whether in agriculture, or throughout the urban environment including structural and landscape.


3 Responses to “California’s Pesticide Use Declined Again, Yet Millions of Toxic Pesticides Continue To Be Used”

  1. 1
    LASW Says:

    It’s great news that pesticide use has declined once again in California! This is beneficial for our health and our waters. Pesticides used for harvest treatments or for maintaining landscapes get washed away from the rain and reach its way to the ocean, contributing to pollution of our waters. To find out the how to prevent stormwater pollution check out lastormwater.info

  2. 2
    Robert Dolezal Says:

    Your article mentions methyl iodide as one of the top 25 pesticides used in California. In fact, other that a tiny amount used by U.C. researchers for study, the pesticide has never been applied in California, and has never been used commercially by farmers. You should correct this error of fact.

  3. 3
    Beyond Pesticides Says:

    @Robert- apologies, and thank you for pointing out the error! This has been corrected on the page and changed to methyl bromide, the soil fumigant that methyl iodide is poised to replace.

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