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Challenging Methyl Iodide’s Approval

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.

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What's at Stake

Methyl iodide is extremely toxic and highly carcinogenic. Like other fumigants, methyl iodide is volatile and likely to cause acute poisonings of large numbers of people in communities where it is applied.

Case Overview

Earthjustice worked at both the state and federal level to force methyl iodide, a highly toxic chemical, off the market.

On the federal side, Earthjustice assisted a broad coalition of organizations, including Pesticide Action Network of North America, Californians for Pesticide Reform, and Pesticide Watch, in petitioning EPA to cancel its registrations of methyl iodide. The agency registered methyl iodide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act in late 2007, despite strong opposition from the environmental and scientific community.

Methyl iodide was intended to serve as an alternative to methyl bromide, which was being phased out by international agreement due to its impacts on the ozone layer. However, methyl iodide is itself extremely toxic and, unlike methyl bromide, highly carcinogenic. Like other fumigants, methyl iodide is extremely volatile and likely to cause acute poisonings of large numbers of people in communities where it is applied. We filed our petition on March 31, 2010, in light of new information from the registration proceeding before the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, in which an independent scientific panel highlighted the unreasonable adverse effects on human health and the environment from use of this highly toxic pesticide.

At the state level, Earthjustice represented a coalition of groups and farm workers in challenging the California Department of Pesticide Regulation's approval of methyl iodide, which was approved to be applied to California's strawberry fields at rates up to 100 pounds per acre on much of the state's 38,000 acres in strawberry production, totaling millions of pounds of use. Though methyl iodide would have likely been used primarily on strawberries, it was also registered for use on tomatoes, peppers, nurseries and on soils prior to replanting orchards and vineyards.

The suit challenged the DPR's December 20 approval of methyl iodide for use in California on the grounds that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act, which protects groundwater against pesticide pollution. In addition, the suit contended that DPR violated the law requiring involvement of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in the development of farm worker safety regulations and made an unlawful finding of emergency with its request for Restricted Materials status for methyl iodide.

In March 2012, Arysta pulled methyl iodide off the market, yielding to public pressure. Arysta’s action came just days before a court ruling was expected in the Earthjustice case challenging California’s approval of the pesticide. In November 2012, the company also requested that the U.S. EPA cancel federal registration of the pesticide.

Case ID

2039, 2045

Attorneys

Case Updates

January 10, 2013 | Feature

What You Don't Know Can Kill You

What’s colorless and may cause cancer? The chemical industry doesn’t want you to know the answer is styrene—but Earthjustice is taking them on to reveal the truth.

November 30, 2012 | In the News: Bloomberg Businessweek

Maker of methyl iodide ends US EPA registration

Ending more than five years of litigation, the manufacturer of a harmful pesticide methyl iodide has voluntarily ceased its production and permanently pulled the product off the market. The fumigant, used in non-organic farming via injection into the soil, has been linked to health risks and environmental pollution.

The announcement by the company follows a successful legal challenge to methyl iodide brought by Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie. "This is the final nail in the coffin," said Loarie.

April 13, 2012 | Blog Post

Farmworkers Savor Sweet Taste of Victory

In March of 2012, the maker of methyl iodide took the chemical off the market, less than a year after Earthjustice sued to protect strawberry field workers from the deadly pesticide. 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.

March 21, 2012 | Press Release

Cancer-Causing Methyl Iodide Pulled

Manufacturer pulls fumigant pesticide off U.S. market, California officials urged to support safe transitions for strawberry farmers

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