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On Feb. 21, more than 60,000 people urged the new Director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) on his first day on the job to take action on cancer-causing pesticide methyl iodide. Representatives of environmental, health and farmworker organizations as well as tens of thousands of individuals urged Director Brian Leahy to repair the image of the tarnished department, criticized for ignoring science and failing to protect public health, by reversing the Schwarzenegger administration’s controversial approval of the strawberry pesticide.
“Director Leahy must show his commitment to public health and scientific integrity by immediately suspending all uses of methyl iodide and reversing the approval of this cancer-causing fumigant,” said Susan Kegley, PhD, consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network. “In addition, he should support long-term efforts to partner with farmers and sister state agencies, to help transition away from pesticide fumigants and invest in healthy, sustainable agriculture.”
Leahy, a former organic farmer and assistant firector of the Division of Land Resource Protection at the California Department of Conservation takes office after an eleven-month vacancy in the position of the state’s chief pesticide regulator. He comes to office more than one year after the approval of methyl iodide—in December 2010, DPR approved the use of methyl iodide, ignoring concerns voiced by both a panel of independent scientists and the agency’s staff scientists. One independent scientist has called it “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” citing research that methyl iodide causes cancer, late-term miscarriages and contaminates groundwater.
More than 200,000 scientists, farmers, farmworkers, environmentalists and other members of the public sent comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last May urging the federal agency to listen to the science and ban the pesticide nationally. Washington State used California’s research to reject methyl iodide, and federal regulators have suggested that they are waiting on California in order to determine their next steps.
“Farmworkers are on the frontlines of pesticide exposure,” said Maria Machua, spokesperson for United Farm Workers. “California’s steps have immediate and direct impacts on the health and safety of farmworkers and their families living in the state, and sets precedence for farmworkers living across the country.”
The petition signatures were gathered over the past two weeks, following news of Leahy’s appointment, by a coalition of scientist, farmworker and environmental organizations, including the United Farm Workers, Pesticide Action Network, Environmental Working Group, Food & Water Watch, Center for Environmental Health, Change.org, Pesticide Watch, Worksafe and the coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform.
“This is an opportunity for a new day at DPR. Previous directors have all too often caved to industry pressure and rubber-stamped pesticides instead of safeguarding health and promoting a vibrant agricultural system,” said Tracey Brieger, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform. “Sticking to the science and promoting safe alternatives will reduce pesticide use, protect children’s health and support climate-friendly agriculture. With strong leadership, Leahy can make DPR an engine of innovation, economic stability and improved safety.”
California leads the country in organic farming with more than 430,000 acres in production and average annual growth of 15 percent. In his new role, Director Leahy has a significant opportunity to work with growers and find opportunities to reduce pesticide use, promote organic production and strengthen California’s vibrant agricultural economy.
In the first days of the Brown administration, Californians for Pesticide Reform, a coalition of more than 185 health and environmental organizations, submitted, a platform for pesticide. Healthy Children & Green Jobs: A Platform for Pesticide Reform outlines priority recommendations for how the Brown administration and Leahy can protect health and ensure the success of agriculture in California, including taking action on methyl iodide.
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