Field of Nightmares: Keep Cancer-Causing Pesticide Out of California’s Strawberry Fields

More than 20 years ago, my sister died of cancer when she was a young mother of two kids under eight.  I still live with that pain, and I know  that I’m not alone –all of you also have the same kind of stories about this common disease. With cancer so wide-spread, it should be crazy, or at least foolhardy, to intentionally expose California families and ecosystems to a cancer-causing chemical, but that’s exactly what California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation is proposing to do.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation recently proposed to authorize the use of a new pesticide, methyl iodide, that is identified as a cancer-causing chemical under California’s landmark toxics warning law “Proposition 65.”

Here’s what else we know about this chemical:

* Its ability to cause genetic damage is unequivocal.

* It causes miscarriages at strikingly low exposures.

* In exposed people, it has caused long term damage to the nervous system.

* There is a high likelihood that it can damage children’s developing brains.

* Use of methyl iodide in California will expose large numbers of people.

A group of 55 National Academy of Sciences members, all distinguished scientists (including six Nobel Prize winners) had this to say about methyl iodide:  “As chemists and physicians familiar with the effects of this chemical, we are 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 methyl iodide is permitted for use in agriculture.”

Why is California taking this action that is so contradictory to protecting our health? It seems likely that the answer lies in corporate profits.  Arysta, the company that makes and sells methyl iodide, has lobbied heavily for California to approve the use of this toxic chemical.

The primary crop in California that will be grown with methyl iodide is strawberries. Yet farmers in California for years have been growing organic strawberries without using soil fumigants like methyl iodide. University of California Cooperative Extension researchers found that costs and profits for organic strawberry growers were not significantly different than for their counterparts who use poisonous fumigants.

California will make a final decision about methyl iodide in the next few weeks. Please take this opportunity to tell our governor that our health should come before chemical company profits.