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Last Wednesday, California regulators approved methyl iodide as a pesticide for use by fruit and vegetable growers in the state. The chemical is expected to be used primarily in California’s $1.6 billion strawberry industry, which produces more than 80 percent of the nation’s strawberries.
Methyl iodide will be used as a substitute for the pesticide methyl bromide, which was commonly used in the state but is being phased out. Methyl bromide was found to deplete the ozone layer and will be eliminated due to an international treaty.
The decision by the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation was made despite heavy criticism from farm workers and environmentalists, citing research that methyl iodide causes cancer and can poison the air and water of surrounding areas.
The agency’s director defended the decision saying, “Methyl iodide can be used safely under our tough restrictions by only trained applicators at times, places, and specific conditions approved by the county agricultural commissioners.” The restrictions by the state agency go further than those required by the EPA, or by any of the other 47 states that have approved the use of the pesticide.
A coalition has been formed urging California’s Governor-elect Jerry Brown to ban methyl iodide once he is sworn in as governor January 3.