Monterey County Says No To Methyl Iodide

California counties ban methyl iodide as the state awaits court’s decision

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This week, Monterey County, California gave a better-than-roses Valentine’s Day present to its roughly 415,000 residents. Following in the footsteps of Santa Cruz County, its neighbor to the north, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted to ask Gov. Jerry Brown to review the approval of the toxic fumigant methyl iodide.

Methyl iodide, a known carcinogen, is most threatening to the men and women who work in California’s strawberry fields where the majority of the pesticide will be applied. Those farm workers risk eye irritation, nausea, central nervous system disorders, late-term miscarriages and cancer. California accounts for about 80 percent of the nation’s strawberry crop, and Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are home to a large portion of the state’s strawberry farms.

In December 2010, California approved methyl iodide for use on 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-Gov. 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.

Earthjustice’s lawsuit claims 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 contends that the state failed to involve the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in the development of farmworker safety regulations. The case was argued in court earlier this year by Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie and a decision is expected imminently.

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.