The Science of Sustainability

Reporter's Notes: Strawberries and Worker Safety – Part Two

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If methyl iodide is approved later this month, the decision will come with a long list of regulations, designed to protect workers, and people who live nearby from inhaling fumes from the chemical.

How much can we count on respirators, buffer zones and other tools to protect people from a toxic chemical? That's the focus of this week's QUEST radio story. If methyl iodide is approved later this month, the decision will come with a long list of regulations, designed to protect workers, and people who live nearby from inhaling fumes from the chemical, which can cause miscarriages, cancer and– while the science is less clear here — brain damage.

Last week we looked at how the decision over methyl iodide has caused a rift within the agency charged with making the decision. At the heart ofthis dispute is a disagreement between "risk assessors" and "risk managers," over what size dose of methyl iodide could be considered safe.

Strawberry growers say fumigants like mehtyl iodide are key to sustaining a $2 billion a year industry. UC Davis strawberry researcher Doug Shaw has done comparisons on beds grown with fumigants, including methyl iodide, and without. He says when comes to the utility of fumigants this comparison speaks volumes.

strawberry comparison


Listen to Strawberries and Worker Safety – Part Two radio story online.

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

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About the Author ()

Amy Standen is a radio reporter for KQED Science. Her email is astanden@kqed.org and you can follow her on Twitter at @amystanden.
  • Sam

    Who will be making the money when this deadly chemical is approved?

  • Yayoi

    Great reporting! A strawberry farm, leasing vacant land, came to my neighborhood in suburban Sacramento. Methyl Bromide was applied in our neighborhood 2 times in the last 3 years and the Placer Co. Ag Commissioner allowed this despite public complaints. Interesting this happened to us, yet I've read recent local newspaper articles with quotes from the Sac. and Placer Co. Ag commissioners that soil fumigants are not used in the Capitol region and therefore aren't a concern for us in Suburban Sacramento, although there are small strawberry farms everywhere in Sacramento.

    Is soil fumigant use in suburban Sacramento being kept a dirty secret – so that we won't complain about the upcoming registration of Methyl Iodide?

    Since I live near a strawberry farm, I looked at the "mitigation methods" proposed by the DPR to "protect" people living nearby in residential neighborhoods. First and most appalling- there is NO PUBLIC notice to people living nearby as there is for Methyl Bromide, a far less toxic fumigant. A farmer could use the farming equivalent of agent orange in our backyards and never let us know. We would be powerless to contact our Ag. Commissioners to try to stop it or take measures like close our windows, keep our kids out of the yard, or evacuate when the chemical is in use. Without public notice, you allow a secret and silent threat into our neighborhoods and leave us ignorant and powerless to protect ourselves. Is that their intent?

    Second, the buffer zones they propose give
    prisons the protectiion of a mandatory, nondiscretionary 1/4 mile buffer zone, while allowing methyl iodide as close as 100 feet from residential neighborhoods. Why aren't law abiding men, women and children living and sleeping in their homes deserving of the same protection as convicted felons in prisions? We should at least get that much protection. Schools and nursing homes get a mandatory 1/2 protection. We also have children and the elderly in residential neighborhoods. Why can't our children get the same protection in their own backyards?

    I see a race to register a toxic fumigant even in the face of science that says that this chemical isn't safe under any realistic farming scenario. I see mitigation methods that are inadequate and secretive. I see our children in the future having permanent neurological damage (autism, lower IQs, parkinson like disorders) and we will be powerless to prevent it or have any recourse afterwards as we will have no notice that methyl iodide was ever used.

    I am scared, as all of you in the Capitol region should be, absent any policy statement or assurances from our Ag commissioners that, once registered, they will not approve methyl iodide for use in our neighborhoods.

    Methyl iodide won't be used on small farms, because methyl iodide is too expensive? They said they same thing about methyl bromide and they were wrong!