California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation in December approved the registration of the fumigant methyl iodide, which strawberry growers have used as an alternative to methyl bromide. But opponents of the move filed a lawsuit against the state by the end of the month.
In announcing the pending registration of the fumigant, pesticide regulation department director Mary-Ann Warmerdam said methyl iodide “is the most evaluated pesticide in the department’s history.”
“Methyl iodide can be used safely under our tough restrictions by only highly trained applicators at times, places and specific conditions approved by the county agricultural commissioners,” she said.
Like methyl bromide, methyl iodide, which is licensed for use in 47 other states, is injected into the soil before a crop is planted to prevent weeds, diseases and nematodes.
Methyl bromide is being phased out in order to protect the ozone layer under provisions of a treaty called the Montreal Protocol.
Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance filed the suit Dec. 30 in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of several labor and environmental groups, claiming that the fumigant is “an extremely poisonous and dangerous pesticide that causes cancer and pollutes groundwater.”
The lawsuit said the approval violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act.
Meantime, California’s strawberry growers continue to search for alternatives to methyl bromide and methyl iodide, said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.
Alternatives have included soil-steaming, incorporating mustard seed meal into soil and growing berries on raised bed troughs in which plants are rooted in ground coconut husks or other media rather than soil.
Growers will continue to consider the safety of their workers and surrounding neighbors whenever they use chemical fumigants, she said.