RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a petition submitted by public health, farmworker advocacy, and environmental groups challenging the approval of methyl iodide, a toxic fumigant that is set to become the default pesticide used in the California fields that produce 90 percent of the country's strawberry supply. The volatile pesticide was approved despite the fact that more than 50 leading scientists, including six Nobel Laureates in chemistry, voiced concerns over approval for use in agriculture. The chemical has been shown to cause late-term miscarriages and groundwater contamination, and is actually used in labs to create cancer cells.
"This chemical has an uncanny ability to damage DNA, which creates a host of problems, ranging from reproductive effects to cancer and neurological damage," explains Gina Solomon, MD, MPH, chief scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council. "Since the chemical is also highly volatile, it is easy for it to drift and affect workers and nearby communities."
THE DETAILS:The approval of this controversial pesticide for agricultural use, including growing strawberries, has created some unfruitful drama for the beloved berry. Unless the approval is overturned in California, upwards of 38,000 acres of strawberry fields could be blasted with the chemical this summer, putting farmworkers and neighbors who drink the water at risk. (Public health advocates say methyl iodide residue is not expected to be found on/in strawberries in the grocery store.) Here's the backstory:
The EPA approved this DNA-damaging pesticide at the end of the Bush Administration; however, states like California, Florida, Washington, and New York require separate state approvals for pesticides. Despite public outcry, California approved the pesticide last December, and it could be used this summer, when peak strawberry field fumigation begins in the Golden State.
Florida has approved limited use of the highly volatile chemical; New York and Washington states have nixed it altogether. Toxicologist John Froines, PhD, a member of an independent review board that advised against the farm-use approval of methyl iodide, has called it the "most toxic chemical on Earth."
"The science is in. An immediate withdrawal of methyl iodide from the market is the best strategy for preventing adverse effects from this highly toxic pesticide," says Susan Kegley, PhD, consulting scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America. "Unless U.S. EPA wants to see more groundwater contamination, increased numbers of late-term miscarriages in women who live or work near methyl iodide applications, more thyroid disease, and more cancers, they need to get this dangerous chemical off the market."