Effect Measure

Methyl iodide: strawberry fields forever

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.


  1. #1 sapo
    September 28, 2007

    and, besides the farm owner, guess who lives on and around farms: poor people. in the south it’s mostly poor, african americans. in california? probably poor mexicans and asians. chalk another one up for environmental (in)justice. oh yeah!

    by the time food gets to the larger population, no one remembers that it has been soaked in chemicals that kill a wide array of pests and weeds, (but somehow do not affect humans *#!$*?)

    oh, and if you’re wealthy enough you can always shop at the local organic coop or mega-organic, over-priced whole foods. if you’re not so privileged, and you even have access to fruits and vegetables, you’re lucky enough to wash it down with some methyl iodide.

    don’t worry, although pesticides and herbicides are designed to kill things, they don’t affect humans. after all, we’re sooooooo much more evolved than those lesser creatures. plus the government tells us it’s fine. and the government conducts thorough audits of all research that will lead to human consumption. (ha that’s ironic!)

    excuse me, i need to quench my thirst with some araclor-soaked high fructose corn syrup. mmm.

  2. #2 herman
    September 28, 2007

    You can read in English a summary of the report in El Universal regarding the 45 patients with suspected bird flu in Mexico at the above site.