If regulators in the state of California, a slate of scientists and doctors including 6 nobel laureates in chemistry and environmental and farmworker groups were all against registering a new toxic fumigant for fruits and vegetables, who would you expect to be in favor of it? If you guessed the Bush administration lap dog agency, the US Environmental Protection Agency, you’d be right. But it wasn’t that hard a question.
The fumigant in question is methyl iodide, marketed by Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience Corp to take the place of methyl bromide, being phased out as a greenhouse gas under the Montreal Treaty. Methyl bromide is also extremely toxic, as is its chemical cousin, methyl iodide. No surprise. The registration application for methyl iodide has been around for a bit. So has the concern, some of it even from EPA’s own scientists. A statement by 54 independent scientists said:
“We are concerned that pregnant women and the unborn fetus, children, the elderly, farm workers and other people living near application sites would be at serious risk” from fumigated fields, the group said in a letter to [EPA Administrator Stevern] Johnson. They described the newer fumigant as “one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing.” (Mercury News)
The EPA thinks it’s just fine and growers like it. Like its predecessor methyl bromide, it seems to kill a wide array of pests and weeds. Maybe this should tell us something, but what it seems to be telling EPA is that it is the ideal green chemical: green as in the color of money. Meanwhile, Cornell’s nobel laureate (1981, chemistry) Roald Hoffman made his own assessment:
“I wouldn’t like to live near a field where it’s applied.”
I guess I can infer that also means he wouldn’t like to work in the field. How about eating the strawberries? California classifies methyl iodide as a carcinogen. EPA says not to worry as long as the levels aren’t too high.
Strawberry Fields Forever. Or at least till death do us part.