Over the past couple of weeks. there have been some new developments in the controversy over methyl iodide, a fumigant used mostly in the harvesting of strawberries.
Farmers say methyl iodide is critical to the state's $2 billion strawberry industry, and California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation approved it last year.
The process, however, exposed a rift between DPR scientists and administrators, when the latter approved exposure levels 120 times higher than what staff and consulting scientists believe is safe for farm workers and people who live near strawberry fields. (Background on this story here, here, and here.)
EPA opens public comment period
Last week, the EPA opened a public comment period on methyl iodide. Environmentalists say this is a long time coming. In March, 2010, the enviro-law group Earthjustice submitted a petition to the US-EPA, asking that the agency revoke its approval of the fumigant, which would force California to do the same. In August, US Senator Diane Feinstein chimed in, requesting that the EPA re-evaluate the methyl iodide decision. Last Thursday the agency formally invited members of the public to weigh in on whether methyl iodide should be approved as a pesticide. At the end of the 30-day period, the agency will “evaluate the petitioner’s request,” to see whether it warrants further action.
So, does the move signal a shift in the EPA’s thinking about whether methyl iodide should be a federally-approved pesticide? Or is it just a formality? Depends on who you ask. Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, said “our hope is that EPA will take this process seriously and will conclude that the prior administration's decision to register methyl iodide was misguided.”