On January 11, a lawsuit that was filed against the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and Arysta LifeScience, the maker of methyl iodide, by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and Earthjustice was heard in Oakland by the Alameda County Superior Court. This is the first case of its sort. Pesticide-use challenges are rare; a lawsuit was filed in this case due to the severity of the effects of methyl iodide and the controversy around its approval. A ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, the pesticide methyl iodide was approved for use in California last year despite evidence of its very serious and sometimes deadly effects. Strawberries are a big crop in Monterey County, and methyl iodide is a pesticide used when growing the fruit. The approval sparked outrage among the community members and community groups in the area, who immediately voiced their concerns about the use of the pesticide and demanded the repeal of its approval.
Since the pesticide’s approval, the community took action and is now urging the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to pass a Resolution that would force the DPR to reconsider its approval of methyl iodide. Supporters of the Resolution include CRLA, Earthjustice, Planned Parenthood, Watsonville Law Center, United Farm Workers, Lideres Campesinas, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), and other environmental and public health organizations.
On the same day that the methyl iodide case was heard in Oakland, CRLA attorney Michael Marsh, spoke at a press conference in Salinas. Members of Lideres Campesinas in the audience wore signs with various Spanish messages including one that said: “We don’t want strawberries with cancer. There are other options that are not toxic.”
Maria Chavez lives in Monterey County and attends San Jose State University. She found out about methyl iodide when assigned to write a paper about it. In an interview, she explained her concerns. “Methyl iodide’s human-effect cost is higher than expected. Methyl iodide causes cancer, late-term miscarriages, harms brain functions, and contaminates water. This new alternative is unsafe and harmful to our community. Methyl iodide needs to be replaced to protect farm-workers and prevent our water from contamination.” Since then, Chavez has been concerned about the approval of the pesticide and the safety of her family. She is not the only one concerned. Extensive pesticide use in the Salinas Valley has led to increased health illnesses among the population.
Even if methyl iodide’s use is banned, there will need to be another alternative to control pests in strawberries. Maria Chavez is opposed to an alternative chemical. “Another chemical approach to replace methyl iodide does not solve the problem. As consumers we can help to shift to a more sustainable strawberry production. By appreciating smaller strawberries we support organic farmers who grow ... contamination-free strawberries.”
Arturo Zamora, a 12-year resident of Salinas hopes the courts will strike down the approval of methyl iodide. "If it is not repealed, the exposure to the pesticide is going to cause many deaths in Monterey County. I'm very concerned about pesticide drift and the fact that so many schools are located near to or in the middle of fields: Mc Kinnon Elementary, La Joya Elementary, Boronda Meadows, Oscar Loya Elementary, Lagunita School, Graves School, Alisal High School, Alvarez High School, most of our schools are near fields. Exposure affects our children. New generations will be plagued by cancer at very early ages. If methyl iodide is not banned, my family will have no choice but to move somewhere where we will not be exposed to the pesticide."
Zamora said he would move his family to another city or another state, if necessary. But he doesn't like being in this situation. "It's sad and at the same time it's frustrating to recognize that this problem has arisen because of the greed of a few people, they want to increase their sales and profits at all cost, even if that cost includes the health of our community and the lives of our community members."