Newly released documents show that a Schwarzenegger political appointee within the state agency that approved the cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide favored the input of the chemical’s manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience, over the recommendations of its own scientists.
Approval of the pesticide was rushed through in the final days of the Schwarzenegger Administration. Responding to requests to reverse the decision, Governor Brown said he would “take a fresh look” at the chemical, while his administration said it would consider any new evidence.
“Governor Brown has the opportunity to show that his administration respects science by reversing his predecessor’s indefensible decision on methyl iodide,” said Tracey Brieger, Co-Director at Californians for Pesticide Reform.
“Basic public health protection requires that the state not allow broad scale release of ‘one of the most toxic chemicals on earth’ into the state’s fields and water supplies.”
State experts weren’t alone in warning about the dangers of widespread use of this cancer causing poison.
Fifty-four eminent scientists, including six Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, said methyl iodide is “one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing” and questioned the wisdom of U.S. EPA’s initial approval of the chemical.
The state-commissioned independent Scientific Review Committee agreed. Dr. John Froines, chair of the Committee, told press, “I honestly think that this chemical will cause disease and illness. And so does everyone else on the committee.”
Theodore Slotkin, another panel member and professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University, wrote, “It is my personal opinion that this decision will result in serious harm to California citizens, and most especially to children.”
“I’m mad that the Department that is supposed to protect us from pesticides was hijacked by a pesticide company,” said plaintiff Jose Hidalgo. “As a strawberry picker, we frequently see pesticide tarps blowing in the wind and experience the pain of pesticide exposure.”
Methyl iodide causes late term miscarriages, is a known carcinogen, and puts California’s scarce groundwater supplies at risk of iodide contamination.
The pesticide poses the most direct risks to farmworkers and neighboring communities because of the volume that would be applied to fields and its tendency to drift off site through the air.
Methyl iodide is currently 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 potentially millions of pounds of use. In addition to strawberries, it is also registered for use on tomatoes, peppers, nurseries and on soils prior to replanting orchards and vineyards.
Unlike California and Florida, New York and Washington states have refused to approve methyl iodide as a pesticide.