The Science of Sustainability

Reporter's Notes: Strawberries and Worker Safety

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After millions of dollars of research, strawberry growers have come up with an alternative to methyl bromide, which damages the ozone layer: methyl iodide. Unfortunately, methyl iodide has its own set of problems.

California’s $2 billion strawberry industry relies to a large extent on a chemical called methyl bromide. It’s a fumigant that growers use to sterilize the soil, before the plants go in. But methyl bromide also damages the ozone layer, which is why it’s being phased out under international treaty.

This is old news to strawberry growers, who have spent a decade looking for a replacement (and successfully pleading for extensions on the phase-out). After millions of dollars of research, they've come up with an alternative: methyl iodide. Unfortunately, methyl iodide has its own set of problems. It can cause cancer, miscarriages and, many scientists believe, neurological damage, both to adults and children, and fetuses. The fear is that people who work in strawberry fields, or who live, work, and go to school nearby, could get sick. That’s the subject of this week’s radio story.

Though organic strawberry growers say that pests can be addressed without the use of fumigants, state ag officials say the industry needs methyl iodide. In a letter obtained by QUEST in a Public Records Act request, California Department of Food and Agriculture said that if methyl iodide is denied to growers, the industry will take a hit. They say it could cost the state as much as 50,000 jobs.


Listen to Strawberries and Worker Safety radio story online.

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Category: Environment, Health, Radio, Sustainable Food, Sustainable Health

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About the Author ()

As a radio reporter for KQED Science, Amy's grappled with archaic maps, brain fitness exercises, albino redwood trees, and jet-lagged lab rats, as well as modeled a wide variety of hard hats and construction vests. Long before all that, she learned to cut actual tape interning for a Latin American news show at WBAI in New York, then took her first radio job as a producer for Pulse of the Planet. Since then, Amy has been an editor at Salon.com, the editor of Terrain Magazine, and has produced stories for NPR, Living on Earth, Philosophy Talk, and Pop Up Magazine. She's also a founding editor of Meatpaper Magazine.