Florida has no reporting requirements for controversial pesticide methyl iodide
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05/13/11 Kelly Benjamin
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday | Listen to this entire show:

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Methyl iodide is a controversial pesticide that has been approved for use in agricultural fields in Florida and California despite vocal opposition linking it to cancer and other ailments. Today is the last day the Environmental Protection Agency will take public comment on use of the chemical. But finding out where and how much methyl iodide is being used in Florida is a difficult task.

The EPA's public comment period on methyl iodide comes at the request of EarthJustice, a law firm working on behalf of farmworkers, environmentalists, and health advocates who say the pesticide is too toxic to be used in agriculture and that the EPA should suspend it's use. Paul Towers is a director with Pesticide Watch Education Fund.

"Mainly, methyl iodide is far too toxic for use anywhere in this country. It's linked to cancer, it's a known reproductive toxin, it causes brain damage. For all of these reasons, methyl iodide, the cancer causing strawberry pesticide doesn't belong anywhere near our communities."

The EPA approved methyl iodide use in 2007. It has been touted by it's manufacturer Arysta Lifescience as a safe replacement for the fumigant methyl bromide, which is being phased out due to the damage the chemical causes to the ozone layer. Florida approved the use of methyl iodide in 2008 but it's difficult to get a handle on where it's being applied in the state and at what quantities.

"It is being used in the state but we don't know how extensively it's being used."

That's Jeannie Economos, pesticide safety and environmental health coordinator with the Farmworker Association of Florida.

"Our state doesn't have a reporting requirement and that's a real problem with our department of Agriculture not requiring that ... and their reason if you ask them is that it's too expensive."

According to Dennis Howard, chief of the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Pesticides, Economos is right, the department does not keep track of the application of methyl iodide.

"There's no requirement for growers to report to us what's being used or where it's being used. If it were important for the department to obtain that information that's something we could ask the chemical companies to provide to us."

The manufacturer of methyl iodide, Arysta Lifescience, has not been forthcoming about who is using the pesticide in Florida, but Arysta's head of development Jeff Tweedy says that concern about the safety of methyl iodide has been overblown.

"We believe if the product is used as we've laid out in the steward manual and used as label use directions, the agencies that have reviewed this at state, Federal, and global levels have concluded that this product can be used safely."

However, a number of scientists who have studied methyl iodide disagree, including Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist with the Pesticide Action Network.

"The problem with this is that it is highly toxic and that Arysta's definition of safe does not really equate with what toxicologists who have studied this issue at great length believe is safe or even marginally safe."

Kegley also points out that evidence suggests methyl iodide could contaminate groundwater in Florida's shallow aquifer.

"Florida is particularly vulnerable for groundwater contamination and methyl iodide moves very rapidly through groundwater."

Methyl iodide is widely referred to as a strawberry pesticide but it's also been used on a number of other commercial crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. In Florida, there is no requirement for growers or dealers of Methyl Iodide to notify the Department of Agriculture prior to application and there is no public record of it's use in the state of Florida. This differs with the pesticide requirements in California, another state that has approved Methyl Iodide use.

Again Susan Kegley:

"In California we have a pesticide use reporting system and it's helpful for everybody, growers, pesticide manufacturers, and for people who live next to the fields who would like to know what's being put down next to their backyard."

Currently, only Arysta Lifescience, the maker of methyl iodide is responsible for air and water contamination testing of it's pesticide. The Environmental Protection Agency has received hundreds of comments from scientists, growers, and environmental and farmworkers advocacy groups concerned about methyl iodide use. The EPA is expected to reevaluate the pesticide's approval.

funding for this report was made possible by the community at spot.us.

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Comments

Strawberries

This is really scary. I don't think I'll be eating any strawberries. Thanks for the great report!

I've always tried to avoid eating strawberries ...

because they always taste a little chemically to me. Maybe this is why?

Ms.

It is fine to stop eating strawberries (I quit about 15 years ago, when I learned that Canada does not allow imports of US strawberries, because they exceed Canada's pesticide levels), but farmworkers who work in the fields do not have that luxury. They risk exposure everyday that they work - and, their work enables us to have cheap, affordable food. We owe them a safe working environment. We should ban methyl iodide use.

tell the farm workers to wear gloves

grow up and smell the coffee lady. tell the farm workers to wear gloves. problem solved.

hmm...

Maybe gloves AND oxygen masks and full body suits in the Florida heat?