Strawberry Fields Forever (Poisoned)

A Coalition of Environmental Organizations and Farm Workers are Challenging the Government’s Approval of a Dangerous Pesticide
The Guardian recently reported that scientists have observed honeybees sealing up hives contaminated with pesticides in order to protect the rest of the hive from the poisonous chemicals. Bees didn’t always do this. Over time, they figured out that pesticides were harmful and began taking measures to minimize pesticide exposure to their baby bees, which feed on the pollen.

If only humans were as smart as bees!

Unfortunately, government officials have yet to hear the “buzz” about the harmfulness of pesticides. Methyl iodide, a toxic fumigant injected into soil prior to planting, is especially dangerous for farm workers and rural and suburban communities located near fields where it is used. Though heralded by its manufacturer as an eco-friendly alternative to its ozone-depleting cousin, methyl bromide, methyl iodide is so reliably carcinogenic that tiny amounts of the stuff is actually used to create cancer cells in laboratories. It’s also been found to cause late-term miscarriages and contaminate groundwater.

In fact, methyl iodide is so bad that in 2007 more than 50 top scientists wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging it to deny federal approval of the pesticide because they were concerned that “pregnant women and the fetus, children, the elderly, farm workers and other people living near application sites would be at serious risk” if it were permitted for use. In typical fashion, the Bush Administration’s EPA ignored this warning, and promptly approved it for agricultural use on fields that plant crops like strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and grapes.

California: Pro-Pesticide?

Once approved, California, which produces 90% of the nation’s strawberries and is one of the few states that requires separate review of new pesticide registrations, was in a prime position to keep this toxic fumigant out of its environment (as New York and Washington have opted to do). Unfortunately, California chose to take the Bush route and ignore the warnings of its own scientific panel, bypass the public comment period and approve the widely controversial chemical as then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger swaggered out the door.

The bold move left a sour taste in the mouths of farm workers, community advocates and environmental health organizations, so in 2011 the groups, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (CDPR) decision, arguing that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act and a whole host of other laws meant to protect human health and the environment.

In addition, the CDPR’s nefarious actions inspired a record-breaking number of comments from angry constituents, which recently resulted in the agency’s director, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, stepping down from her post. And in February 2011, the state Assembly’s Health and Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committees announced that they would hold a joint oversight meeting to examine methyl iodide’s hasty approval. Most promisingly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it will take another look at methyl iodide and opened a 30-day public comment period on the controversial chemical. EPA was prompted by a petition from Earthjustice asking the agency to ban the use of methyl iodide in the U.S.

If you don’t want your next strawberry banana smoothie to be implicated in mass poisonings, especially along the California coast, speak out against methyl iodide’s approval now.