California Approves Use of Controversial Pesticide

Comments (2)

A strawberry field on Highway 1, between Salinas and Watsonville

A strawberry field on Highway 1, between Salinas and Watsonville (photo: Gabriela López Chávez)

The chemical pesticide Methyl Iodide has been approved by the state of California under “strict regulations.” Methyl Iodide, which will replace Methyl Bromide, has been in the news for its controversial health impacts. The pesticide is designed for use on strawberries and, given the growing number of strawberry fields in Salinas (there are approximately 14,127 acres of strawberry fields in the Watsonville/Salinas area), the concern over whether the chemical will have any impact on our health should be on residents’ minds.

Not only are farmworkers and consumers of the fruit at potential risk for serious health issues, but so might be children attending schools and families living in homes near strawberry fields. Methyl Iodide is known to be a carcinogen and, when tested in labs, caused miscarriages in lab animals. The California Department of Pesticide Regulations (CDPR) has placed more stringent restrictions on the use of Methyl Iodide than other state, surpassing EPA requirements, but there were still several groups and community members protesting its implementation, with 50,000 comments received by CDPR stating concerns.

Current efforts to stop the approval of Methyl Iodide have primarily been focused on the Pajaro Valley, where strawberries have been grown for many years, and where the majority of strawberries are grown in the Monterey Bay area. The Pajaro Valley Unified School District has made efforts to inform the community about the dangers of Methyl Iodide, and others have spoken with the County of Monterey, but little attention seems to have been paid to Salinas residents' concerns over the new pesticide.

Most people may not fully be aware of the potential risks of pesticides. Carla, one of the Salinas residents I informally polled on the issue, told me that she eats strawberries because of the health benefits, and didn’t realize that they could potentially harm her health. Whether or not strict regulation of the pesticide's use will be enough to reduce the risk of carcinogens, Salinas residents and farmworkers should continue to inform themselves of the dangers that can potentially arise from working with or consuming strawberries.

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About Gabriela López Chávez

I have been a long-time resident of Monterey County, moving from the Imperial Valley as a child. During my years in Monterey County, I have lived in South County, the Monterey Peninsula and now, Salinas. I graduated from CSU Monterey Bay and will be completing my graduate degree from San Jose State University in 2011. Although health issues have always been important to me, they have become my primary focus since my daughter was born. Understanding how the health of our community affects our future generations is an important issue to me, as is how communities challenge inequalities and oppression to improve lives. Through this blog, I hope I’m able to provide a different perspective of what happens in the community of Salinas, and how, despite public perceptions of a city overtaken by violence, we are a strong and resilient community.

Comments (2)

  1. Wendy says:

    So, if Methyl Iodine is so potentially dangerous, do we know why California passed a law replacing Methyl Bromine with the chemical? Is it any less dangerous than bromine? Or is it more effective at combating the elements? As a Salinas resident, this is definitely a matter of concern!

  2. Ramiro says:

    The reason why California has approved such a dangerous chemical to be used in our communities is money.

    Methyl Bromide has been banned worldwide by the Kyoto Protocol because it depletes the ozone layer. Methyl Iodide doesn’t deplete the ozone layer, but it kills living tissue.

    Arysta LifeScience is a multinational corporation based out of Japan. They have a monopoly on the sale of this chemical (patented by Jim Sims, a professor at UC Riverside) and they’ve invested millions of dollars in its approval. Just to give you an idea on how much they spend on their PR campaign: Arysta LifeScience hired a consultant in Sacramento to attend last week’s Watsonville City Council meeting, where they unanimously voted to pass a resolution opposing the use of MeI in Watsonville. This guy was the sole voice speaking in favor of MeI usage. Why is Arysta so concerned with little ol’ Watsonville?

    Because Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, combined, use more than 2 million tons of Methyl Bromide, the pesticide MeI will be replacing. The California strawberry industry makes more than 2 billion dollars a year and they are in dire need of a replacement. Do they care about the long-term effects of farmworkers and the community? No. Do they care about the long-term effects of the strawberry industry? Hell yes.

    We still have time to pressure Gov.-Elect Brown to block the usage of MeI – for the sake of future generations.