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Farmworkers Savor Sweet Taste of Victory

Methyl iodide is a highly toxic pesticide and known carcinogen that’s used primarily in strawberry fields.

Methyl iodide is a highly toxic pesticide and known carcinogen that’s used primarily in strawberry fields.


Last month—less than a year after Earthjustice sued to protect strawberry field workers from a deadly pesticide—the maker of that pesticide has taken it off the market. This means that those who labor on our behalf can themselves enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of crippling or even fatal results.

The issue arose when the former head of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation threw caution (and their own scientists’ warnings) to the wind in approving methyl iodide, a highly toxic pesticide and known carcinogen that’s used primarily in strawberry fields. A month later, Earthjustice sued the department on behalf of a coalition of groups and farmworkers for violating several state environmental health laws meant to curb these kinds of irresponsible and politically motivated decisions.

The lawsuit was strengthened by a huge public outcry and warnings from several dozen eminent scientists about methyl iodide, which has been called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.”

The pesticide not only threatens the men and women who work in the fields where the fumigant is applied, but, because of its volatility, also threatens nearby communities who come into the crosshairs of pesticide drift, subjecting people living, working, and playing nearby to serious health risks.

Arysta, the manufacturer of methyl iodide, withdrew it from the national market just as the California Superior Court was about to issue its decision in the Earthjustice lawsuit. This good news, however, is tempered by the continuing harmful agricultural practices used across the land. Earthjustice is working on several fronts to combat these practices and to promote sustainable, safe alternatives, including:

  • Challenging the EPA’s failure to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a toxic chemical widely used in orchards and agricultural fields across the country whose exposure has been linked to headaches, seizures, low birth weights and developmental delays.
  • Strengthening regulations for CAFOs—Confined Animal Feeding Operations—which house thousands to millions of farm animals and create massive amounts of pollution, threatening a community’s air and water.
  • Protecting farmworkers by petitioning the EPA to implement stronger protections for farmworkers against the hazardous health impacts of pesticides.
  • Calling for manufacturers to fully disclose all ingredients in their pesticides, including so-called “inert” ingredients, which lack comprehensive testing and whose effects are largely unknown.
  • Holding polluters accountable for water pollution in Florida, whose postcard-perfect blue waters are green and choked with nasty, toxic algae caused by inadequately treated sewage, manure and fertilizer.
  • Suing the USDA for approving genetically engineered crops modified to resist large amounts of herbicides, resulting in increased herbicide use, a surge in "superweeds," and the contamination of organic and conventional crops.

In pursuit of these objectives, Earthjustice is in for difficult struggles over long periods of time. Progress in such struggles is usually measured in small doses as opposed to the swift, decisive victory that we achieved with methyl iodide. But, whether short term or long, success always comes from our partnership with supporters, like you, who make it possible for us to use the power of law effectively.