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Monday, 17 December, 2018
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Puh-Lease, Not Another Poison

Date: 15 June, 2010

By: Chief

Imageeveral years ago I wrote this story about a fumigant used primarily in strawberry fields. The fumigant is called "methyl bromide." Methyl bromide is powerful enough to kill just about anything in its path — including rocks. And strawberries, being the type of fruit that they are, seem to absorb the poison. Isn't that just ever so lovely? I didn't think so either.

Methyl bromide is set to, more or less, officially expire sometime around 2012 - 2015. Hence Arysta LifeScience, the chemical company which owns the ever popular methyl bromide, needed to come up with something new. Low and behold they did — methyl iodide.

Even deadlier

One would think, or at least hope, that the follow-on to an extremely dangerous chemical product would be — less dangerous. As I said, one would think and hope. However, in the case of methyl iodide, that is not the case. Indeed, methyl iodide is far, far, worse than methyl bromide. That is insane but everything that I have read thus far on the topic tells me it is the truth. Bounders.

Not only can methyl iodide, like methyl bromide, kill everything, including rocks — it is also used to induce cancer in laboratory mice and rats. Quoting the San Francisco Gate:

" 'This is one of the most egregious pesticides out there', said Sarah Aird, the state field organizer for Californians for Pesticide Reform, a coalition of watchdog groups opposed to the use of potentially harmful chemicals. 'It is really, really toxic. It is actually used in the laboratory to induce cancer cells' " (emphasis added).

Isn't that just frigging wonderful. No it is not. Not in any way, shape or form. Ahh, but hold onto your horses folks, there is more. Much more. Again quoting the San Francisco Gate:

"Methyl iodide was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2007 for use as a fumigant over the protests of more than two dozen California legislators and 54 scientists, including five Nobel laureates, who signed a letter opposing registration of the chemical.

"Methyl iodide is now licensed for use in 47 states, but it is expensive and used only sparingly in Florida and the Carolinas, mostly on strawberries and occasionally on tomatoes and peppers. Eleven states have used it at least once, according to researchers. No problems have been documented, but very few studies have been conducted, Aird and others said."

The bureaucrats enter the fray

Now folks, have no fear, California regulators are here and they say all is well. Quoting the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

"The fumigant, marketed by Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience Corp. under the name Midas, does not deplete ozone, but is considered too toxic for safe use by many scientists. State regulators say the proposal contains tough restrictions that will safeguard health.

[ ... ]

" 'After extensive review, we have determined methyl iodide can be used safely with the extra health-protective use restrictions we are proposing that are so much stricter than those imposed anywhere else in the U.S.', said Mary-Ann Warmerdam, the state's top pesticide regulator, in a press release."

See — didn't I just say not to worry? State regulators have the situation well in hand. Hogwash.

Quoting the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

"The limits placed on methyl iodide include a minimum half-mile buffer zone around schools, hospitals and nursing homes; smaller application rates and acreage treatments than allowed under federal rules, as well as a requirement for training."

I know an area on the Central California coast where a lot of strawberry fields are located. There is rarely a day without wind. This is especially true during mid to late winter when the fallow fields are fumigated in preparation for an early spring planting.

Indeed, once the fields are fumigated huge, and I do mean huge, plastic tarps are placed over the the freshly fumigated fields. Well lo and behold, rarely a year goes by when some of those tarps are not ripped by the wind into something resembling confetti with soil getting blown all over hell and creation. You can see the dust from miles away.

So, then what is the point of puny little "half-mile buffer zone around schools, hospitals and nursing homes?" Note there was no mention whatsoever about residential areas. There are literally thousands of people living, butthole to bellybutton, in the growing area(s). What about them? I don't hear a word and neither will you.

Carolyn O'Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission, said (quoting the Santa Cruz Sentinel):

"[The commission] has spent millions to come up with an alternative to methyl bromide and other fumigants with limited success. She couldn't say whether methyl iodide is the answer until there's a final decision.

"Depending on the restrictions, methyl iodide could be unusable, she said."

Hopefully it will be unusable. However, I shall not hold my breath. It wouldn't do any good anyhow. Currently, I am not at all pleased with this sordid state of affairs.

Public comments

Here for your reading horror is part of a letter from Amber R. Wise, PhD, University of California, San Francisco. She has a PhD in chemistry. Quoting her letter:

"[ ... ] I am very concerned with the replacement of methyl bromide with methyl iodide. I agree with the 1986 decision to phase-out methyl bromide because of its reactivity with the ozone layer, but methyl iodide doesn't impact the ozone as much as methyl bromide not because it's less reactive, but because it's actually more reactive and will interact with humans, animals and the environment before reaching the upper atmosphere.

"I received my PhD in Chemistry from UC-Berkeley a year and a half ago and when I speak to fellow chemists about the possibility of replacing something as toxic as methyl bromide with an even more reactive compound, they often laugh at me and think I'm not being serious. And since most chemists are unfamiliar with pesticide practices, when I tell them that we spray hundreds of pounds of methyl bromide on soil at a time, they are shocked. When I tell them methyl iodide is the proposed replacement for methyl bromide, they are stunned.

[ ... ]

"Synthetic chemists use methyl iodide in their reactions because it is an extremely reactive alkylating agent, but we use it only under extremely protective conditions - in a fume hood, with appropriate personal safety equipment, and only then do we handle this liquid via a syringe in a sealed container to prevent exposure because we know it's an efficient DNA methylator that will increase our likelihood of cancer. And we use these precautions for when we are working with very small amounts--a few drops to a few milliliters. The USEPA has determined it safe to spray up to 175 pounds PER ACRE, 40 acres at a time of this compound onto fields with a buffer zone of 500 feet. The buffer zone is only 25 feet if you spray fewer acres."

If that doesn't cause you to choke on your Cheerios with milk and strawberries maybe this will. Here is a letter from Kathleen Collins, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley. Quoting her letter:

"DNA methylation reactions often yield modified bases that are unable to serve as template for a DNA polymerase. These DNA lesions will recruit repair activities both directly (by recognition of distorted DNA) and as the consequence of stalled DNA replication (when the DNA is being copied prior to cell division). However, there is growing awareness than some DNA modifications will be copied over by a DNA polymerase if they are not repaired in advance of DNA replication, thus increasing the probability of genome mutation. Genome mutation in somatic tissues (most of our body) accelerates the progression of cancer. Genome mutation in germline cells (cells that develop into sperm and egg) leads to infertility and disease inheritance.

[ ... ]

"UC Berkeley Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) regulations classify methyl iodide as the most toxic category of compound (zero-release, class C). This is a greater hazard level than most radioactivity [ ... ]" (emphasis added).

As a note — both letters are in .pdf format and are available here.

The bottom line is simply this — We the People do not need nor desire to be poisoned by our own food.

It seems to me that our public servants — employees by any other name — need to be be taken to the nearest tree and provided a suspended sentence — at the end of a rope.

[Ed. note: Story update.] Here is an excellent article about methyl iodide by Mother Jones.

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