After years of promoting their product in the face of scientific opposition, pesticide manufacturer Arysta LifeScience has requested the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cancel federal registration of the cancer-causing methyl iodide.
Today’s decision follows a March 2012 decision by Arysta to pull methyl iodide off the market, yielding to public pressure. Arysta’s action last March came just days before a court ruling was expected in an Earthjustice case challenging California’s approval of the pesticide.
“Produce and agricultural workers across the country are safer today because of the removal of the cancer-causing farm chemical methyl iodide,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie. “Agriculture can be highly productive without having to use chemicals like methyl iodide that threaten not only those who work in our fields, but also anyone who lives within miles of them, with cancer. This is a chemical that never should have been allowed in the first place and we’re thankful that our combined efforts resulted in the chemical company pulling its registration of this dangerous compound.”
The public interest law firm Earthjustice first asked EPA to ban methyl iodide in March 2010, writing a petition on behalf of Pesticide Action Network North America, Pesticide Watch, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Toxic Free North Carolina, Oregon Toxics Alliance, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Migrant Clinicians Network, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Farmworker Justice, and the United Farm Workers.
When California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approved the use of methyl iodide in December 2010, Earthjustice sued the state agency on the grounds that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act, and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act that protects groundwater against pesticide pollution.
Methyl iodide was approved in 2010 in California despite concerns voiced by both a panel of independent scientists and DPR staff scientists. The panel chair, Dr. John Froines, called methyl iodide, “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” citing research that the pesticide causes cancer, late-term miscarriages, and contaminates groundwater. Over 200,000 scientists, farmers, farmworkers, environmentalists and other members of the public sent comments to EPA last May urging the federal agency to follow the science and ban the pesticide nationally. Washington State used California’s research to reject methyl iodide, and federal regulators have been watching California to determine next steps on the chemical.
Methyl iodide is a soil fumigant pesticide, a particular type of pesticide applied at very high rates per acre that readily transforms into a gas, making it difficult to control and prone to drift away from the application site. Rural families and farmworkers throughout Florida and California, in particular, were the mostly likely to be exposed to these chemicals. Boards of Supervisors in two California counties in the heart of strawberry country, Santa Cruz and Monterey, both had issued statements opposing the use of the methyl iodide.
Despite high fumigant pesticide use in conventional agriculture, California leads the country in organic farming with more than 430,000 acres in production and average annual growth of 15%. And farmers and entrepreneurs are looking for alternatives to fumigant pesticides. Current and emerging alternatives include use of disease resistant cultivars and varieties, solarization, steam treatments, crop rotations, use of green manures such as mustard seed meal, and anaerobic disinfestation.