Advocacy & Activism, Environment, Health & Safety, Legislation, Pesticides, Regulations & Compliance, Research and Studies, Work Hazards

Progress! California Legislature Asks EPA to Re-Evaluate Methyl Iodide

From, Sarah Parsons, 14 Apr 2011.

Photo credit: JoePhoto via Flickr

Photo credit: JoePhoto via Flickr

Environmentalists, public health experts, farmworker advocacy groups, and even the California Federation of Teachers have joined the crusade against the use of methyl iodide, a pesticide and neurotoxin. Now members of California’s Legislature are taking up the cause.

Led by Assemblymember William Monning, California Legislature members wrote to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials Lisa Jackson and Steve Owens last week to express concern about methyl iodide, a pesticide so toxic that it’s been associated with cancers, late-term miscarriages, thyroid disease, and neurological problems. Citing research that links methyl iodide to numerous environmental and health risks, Assemblymembers asked officials for two major actions — pull methyl iodide from the market and re-open the scientific evaluation process for the pesticide.

“Extensive scientific analyses have been conducted on methyl iodide and scientists have overwhelmingly concluded that the adverse health and environmental risks to public, worker, and environmental safety associated with this chemical are significant,” Assemblymembers wrote. “Methyl iodide is a known carcinogen (Proposition 65 list), neurotoxin, and mutagen. Additionally, there is significant potential for contamination to groundwater. According to the chair of the Scientific Review Committee, Dr. John Froines, ‘there is no safe level of use for methyl iodide.'”

Methyl iodide first got the EPA’s stamp of approval back in 2007. Despite widespread opposition from the science community, the agency greenlighted the pesticide anyway as one of its last decisions under the Bush administration. The methyl iodide firestorm resumed late last year when California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) approved the pesticide for use in the state, ignoring warnings from its own Scientific Review Committee. Methyl iodide can now be used in every state in the U.S. except for Washington and New York.

Scientists, teachers, California Legislature members, and everyone else opposed to methyl iodide have plenty of reason to be concerned: Methyl iodide has been linked to cancers, late-term miscarriages, thyroid disease, neurological problems, and kidney disorders. Breathing in the stuff can cause slurred speech and vomiting, while touching it burns the skin. There’s also evidence that the fumigant can pollute groundwater and possibly harm aquatic life.

Methyl iodide’s toxic reputation is what prompted a coalition of environmental, health, and farmworker advocacy groups to file a petition last year (pdf) asking the EPA to re-evaluate the pesticide. The EPA ignored the petition for awhile, but recently, the agency opened up the group’s letter for public comments. Folks have until April 30th to submit a comment on the petition to remove methyl iodide from the market until further scientific research is conducted.

The opposition to methyl iodide is finally starting to reach a critical mass. Countless environmental, health, and farmworker groups are coming out against the pesticide, and California’s Governor Jerry Brown recently said that he would “take a fresh look” at the state’s approval of methyl iodide. If we can generate enough support, we just might be able to keep methyl iodide off our crop fields.

Let’s tell the EPA that methyl iodide isn’t safe for use anywhere in the U.S. Sign Pesticide Action Network’s petition asking the agency to pull the pesticide off the market. The non-profit is collecting all our signatures and will submit them to EPA officials before the public comment period ends on April 30th.

Photo credit: JoePhoto via Flickr

 Sarah Parsons is’s Sustainable Food Editor. Her work has appeared in Popular Science, OnEarth, Audubon and Plenty.

Source:, “Progress! California Legislature Asks EPA to Re-Evaluate Methyl Iodide” by Sarah Parsons, 14 Apr 2011.


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