Local News

Aug 10, 2010 9:20 PM by Ariel Wesler

State senator asks EPA to reconsider controversial pesticide

A California senator wants environmental officials to take a closer look at a controversial pesticide. Senator Dianne Feinstein wants the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its approval of methyl iodide. Some scientists are concerned it could poison the air and water while others say it causes cancer.

Meanwhile, strawberry growers call it an effective replacement for methyl bromide, which is being phased out because it damages the ozone.

No pesticide has undergone more testing in California's history than methyl iodide and nobody would like to see it registered in the state more than strawberry farmers.

"We'd be able to continue growing strawberries at the volume and the quality that we're providing them right now," said Daren Gee, a local grower.

He's been in the Santa Maria strawberry business for 20 years. He admits pesticides are toxic, but say they're essential to kill soil bound bacteria.

"You increase your production anywhere from 40 to 60 percent," Gee said.

He says methyl iodide is a good replacement to methyl bromide--a tried and true pesticide which damages the ozone and must be phased out by 2015.

"If you use it improperly, it's not safe, but when you use it properly, it's just as safe as natural gas," Gee said.

Not so say some scientists who fear the pesticide, injected into the soil, could poison the air and water. Workers unions have their own concerns about possible exposure over time.

Methyl iodide is already approved for use in 47 states, but California has its own restrictions, restrictions local growers say could make it that much harder to earn a living.

"Without it, then strawberries will either move to another country or the acreage will diminish, the price will increase," Gee said.

Something opponents say is a small price to pay to ensure public health and safety.

In April, California regulators tentatively approved the pesticide, despite health concerns from scientists. State regulators are expected to reach a final decision in the coming months.

If approved, methyl iodide would be registered as a restricted material. That means the county ag commission would be in charge of regulating the permits.

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