California Strawberry Production Thrives as Regulators Allow Elevated Hazards

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 13, 2014.  In an investigative report, Dark Side of the Strawberry, Center for Investigative Reporting provides a sordid story and analysis of the rise of one of California’s most prized crops, strawberries, while state regulators ignored public health and environmental risks associated with the pesticides used in their production.

The report focuses on a pesticide called 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), a restricted use soil fumigant used to kill nematodes, insects, and weeds, that has strong links to cancer and other serious health issues. The use of the chemical in the production of strawberries came into prominence with the forced reduction of another fumigant, methyl bromide.

As the report chronicles, besides the many other issues associated with methyl bromide, scientists began to become concerned sometime in 1970s that escaped methyl bromide gas had serious effects on the ozone and was blamed for between 5 and 10 percent of ozone depletion.

With the signing of Montreal Protocol in 1987, a treaty that President Reagan signed on behalf of the U.S., methyl bromide became the only pesticide to be banned by treaty, a ban meant to be in full effect by 2005. While the European Union and other industrialized nations followed through with the plan, the U.S. has repeatedly sought ways around the ban through a loophole in the treaty that provides for “critical use exemptions.” The U.S. argues that no viable alternatives to methyl bromide exist.

According to the report, a strong proponent of these exemptions —California strawberry agribusiness— is responsible for the use of “nearly a million pounds of [methyl bromide] this year, while other strawberry-producing countries like Spain and Japan have used none.” With increasing pressure from the international environmental community and because of serious health risks associated with methyl bromide and despite claims that no alternative exists, chemical companies and strawberry growers turned to 1,3-D.

And it is the use of 1,3-D where the story takes an even more troubling turn. As the report reveals, increased uses of 1,3-D results in unsafe levels of the chemical in the air and decisions behind 1,3-D monitoring and application rates were fraught with industry manipulation and risk reduction work-arounds. Specifically, California regulators allowed growers to blow through the 1,3-D health limits, despite documented concerns from state scientists, and turned to the industry responsible for production of 1,3-D, Dow AgroSciences, to figure out how to fix the problem.

The Dow solution: change the way California measures the limits of 1,3-D in the air. Instead of having a hard and fast limit that an area couldn’t exceed because of known health risks associated with exceeding those exposure limits, Dow proposed averaging out the exposures in an area over a period of time. So while one day air monitors might show unsafe levels of 1,3-D, if over the course of the next few days or weeks monitors showed lower or no levels, the average over the time period would come under the health limits.

The result of the Dow plan and California’s shocking approval of it: increased cancer risk for people living in more than 100 California communities.

Reports like the Dark Side of Strawberries and other issues surrounding fumigants and strawberry production emphasize the need to shift away from dependency on toxic chemicals and seek sustainable, organic solutions to crop production and feeding families. Fortunately, there are less toxic ways to grow strawberries and other crops that have relied on these toxic fumigants, and growing strawberries organically has been shown to create healthier soils, higher quality fruit, and improve pollination success. Visit Beyond Pesticides’ website to learn more about supporting organic agriculture and making sustainable choices in the foods we eat.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: The Center for Investigative Reporting,