Groups sue Calfornia over methyl iodide registration

01/03/2011 02:00:00 AM

By Vicky Boyd
Editor

Several environmental groups have filed suit in California to have the December 2010 registration of the fumigant methyl iodide revoked.

The suit, filed Dec. 30, 2010, in Alameda Superior Court, names as plaintiffs the Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Pesticide Watch Education Fund, Community and Children's Advocates Against Pesticide Poisoning, Worksafe Inc. and two farm workers.

Named as defendants are the California Department of Pestcide Regulation and Arysta LifeScience North America, the fumigant's registrant.

Methyl iodide is marketed by Cary, N.C.-based Arysta LifeScience as Midas.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency registered the fumigant in 2007. It also is registered in 47 other states, excluding New York and Washington.

The lawsuit claims that CDPR's actions were illegal and violated state laws that require it to protect farmworkers and nearby communities, says Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice.

"It was approved despite deep concern from scientists," he said in a telephone press conference.

Loarie says 50 scientists opposed the fumigant's registration, saying it was too toxic to be used safely.

CDPR spokeswoman Lea Brooks says the department conducted several additional reviews, including bringing in an independent scientific panel, before issuing its decision.

"This is the most evaluated pesticide in the department's history," she says.

The department received the initial registration application from Arysta in 2002 but didn't begin the evaluation until 2007.

The department sought additional information from Arysta before it could begin the registration review process.

How quickly CDPR and the Brown administration address the concerns raised in the suit will drive whether the groups seek a temporary injunction, Loarie says.

The department also did not ensure transparency throughout the registration process, the groups contend.

But Brooks says the department allowed a 60-day comment period initially, twice as long as usual. It then extended it another 30 days to allow for additional input.

Calling it a "political rush job," Loarie says CDPR registered it shortly before the Schwarzenner administration came to a close.

The department announced the registration Dec. 1, but had to wait until emergency regulations that designated the fumigant a restricted-use product took effect later in the month.

"There is no emergency right now to justify the registration," Loarie says. "It took the public out of the process. We had only five days to review the restricted use designation."

Brooks says the department didn't need the emergency regulations and could have directed county agriculture commissioners to require a restrictred-use permit.

"We sought those additional safeguards," she says about the emergency regulations.

As an alternative to fumigants, the groups would like CDPR, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health to work with stakeholder groups to coordinate research into methyl bromide alternatives.

They would report on their progress by November.

In addition, the agencies would "coordinate access to funding for research into alternatives as well as for farmers for some sort of transition payments," says Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist with the Pesticide Action Network North America. "The administration needs to set a vision of strawberry farming in the future free of fumigants."

Among the existing funding sources cited were the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grants, USDA Pest Management Alternative Program and Environmental Quality Incentive Program.

In a related move, the environmental groups delivered petitions that contained more than 52,000 public signatures collected since December to newly sworn-in Gov. Jerry Brown. The petitions request the registration of methyl iodide be cancelled.



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