Healthy Living

Jun 24, 2010 10:31 PM by Ariel Wesler

Proposed pesticide creates growing concern for farm workers

Farm workers are outraged over a state proposal that would allow a new pesticide to be used in California.

In April, the state board that regulates pesticides proposed allowing growers to use methyl iodide. It would replace the popular fumigant, methyl bromide, that's being phased out because it depletes the ozone layer. Critics say the new chemical is a known carcinogen.

California's farm workers call it a dangerous carcinogenic gas and other critics fear it could poison the air and water.

"There's no way we'd be able to fumigate with methyl iodide out here, considering that we have schools on one side and houses on the other," said George Chavez.

Chavez grows strawberries in Santa Maria. He won't be able to use the new chemical because of the strict regulations. Instead, he uses a less efficient pesticide called Inline, which is injected into the soil through the irrigation system.

"It dissipates inside the bed, so everything's nice and sealed," Chavez said.

Sealed and safer for the workers.

"It is done 6 months prior to any fruiting of the field or anything else like that. We do it two or three months before we actually even plant," Chavez said.

But the highly efficient methyl iodide is attractive to other growers.

"It's just something there that could be used as an alternative," Chavez said.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation says it has evaluated methyl iodide more than any other pesticide in history.

"After extensive reviews, we have determined methyl iodide can be used safely-with the extra, health-proetective use restrictions we are proposing that are much stricter than those imposed anywhere else in the U.S." said DPR Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam.

Still, critics say there's no guarantee large buffer zones and minimizing treatments will keep the pesticide out of the air or the water.

Methly iodide is already approved for use in 47 states, but if California chooses to give it the green light, we would have the strictest standards in the nation.

60 days of public commment is set to expire on June 29. DPR says it will respond to public comments and then proceed with a decision.

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