Big Victory For Strawberry Lovers

Earthjustice lawsuit pressures agro-chemical company to pull the plug on toxic fumigant methyl iodide

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Do you like to eat strawberries grown without cancer-causing fumigants? You do! Well then, have I got some news for you!

Last night, Arysta LifeScience, the producer of the toxic fumigant methyl iodide (sold under the sunny corporate nomenclature “Midas”) announced it is pulling its product—designed for use primarily in strawberry fields—off the U.S. market. The announcement comes as the California Superior Court was about to issue its decision in an Earthjustice lawsuit aimed at stopping the use of the dangerous chemical.

“All Americans are safer today because of the removal of the cancer-causing farm chemical methyl iodide,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who argued the case in court. “American 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 this dangerous compound off the American market.”

The company’s withdrawal of the toxic fumigant will most poignantly impact California, where the vast majority of the nation’s strawberries are grown. The state’s strawberry crop is estimated to bring in more than $1 billion annually.

Earthjustice’s lawsuit argued that the state’s approval of methyl iodide violated the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act, and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act. The suit also addressed the state’s failure to involve the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in the development of farmworker safety regulations.

Methyl iodide, a known carcinogen, is most threatening to the men and women who work in farm fields where the fumigant is applied. Those farm workers risk eye irritation, nausea, central nervous system disorders, late-term miscarriages, and cancer.

In December 2010, California approved methyl iodide for use on the state’s farm fields. Earthjustice challenged the approval in January 2011. As a result of that lawsuit, in August 2011 our legal team obtained internal documents detailing dire warnings about methyl iodide from scientists at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Unfortunately, those warnings fell on deaf ears and then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approved methyl iodide for use.

State experts weren’t alone in warning about the dangers of widespread use of the cancer-causing poison. Fifty eminent scientists, including six Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, said methyl iodide is one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing. California’s own Scientific Review Committee agreed. Dr. John Froines, chair of the committee, told the press: “I honestly think that this chemical will cause disease and illness. And so does everyone else on the committee.”

Thankfully, the disease and illnesses Dr. Froines warned of will not come to pass.

David Lawlor was a writer in the Development department. His environmental activism stems from an affinity for nature and the deep ecology philosophy espoused by the Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.