Choosing Between Cancer and the Ozone

By Leticia Miranda Aug 26, 2009

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is looking at using methyl iodide, a known carcinogenic that’s used in very small amounts to induce cancer in research specimens, on California’s strawberry fields. But it’s ok because they’re preserving the ozone layer by not using methyl bromide, the old fumigant. In a classic either-or policy decision, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with the all-out support of Arysta LifeScience Corporation, who produces and sells Midas (the brand name of methyl iodide), are rearing to let loose this new pesticide that does not deplete the ozone layer, but is a known carcinogenic and neurotoxin that causes thyroid disease and miscarriages in anyone who comes into contact with the chemical in even small amounts. Michael Allen, from Arysta LifeScience’s fumigant division, tried to calm the nerves of concerned farmers, workers and residents living near fields with some good news: methyl iodide requires 20 percent to 30 percent less pounds than methyl bromide to fumigate an area. So instead of pounds and pounds of this chemical affecting your brain and reproductive organs, a smaller amount will do the same. While yes, the UC Riverside-made pesticide was passed by the federal EPA two years ago and is being used in 47 states, it was against the strong objections of 50 leading scientists and researchers, including five Nobel laureates. Even University of California scientists who work with the chemical are scared of it. They don’t let it touch anything.

Professor Kathleen Collins, a molecular biologist at UC Berkeley said, "It is a zero release compound. It is a Class C toxin … way higher than any radio activity that we use.”

Yet DPR is hoping to pump up to 175lbs per acre of this chemical onto California’s strawberry fields. Which means that people living, and especially working, near and in the fields will be 9 to 90 times more likely to get cancer compared to someone who is not exposed to the pesticide at all. Farm workers and valley residents close to fields will then become just a likely to get lung cancer as a person who smokes a pack of cigarettes every day. Because of community outcries against the wide-spread use of this pesticide, an additional external review is being led by UCLA’s Center for Occupational and Environmental Health in Sacramento, CA from Sept. 24-25. The first day will hear state scientists’ thoughts on the chemical and the second day will hear from the public.