strawberryFarm workers harvest strawberries in California. Photo: Holgerhubbs, under a Creative Commons licence. To grow strawberries on an industrial scale, you’ve got to sterilize the soil ahead of planting with harsh chemical fumigants. For years, growers have relied on a highly toxic, ozone-destroying fumigant called methyl bromide. The stuff is so awful that it was banned by a global treaty in the 1980s. U.S. farmers are still using it, under rules that grant them a phaseout extension until a “suitable substitute” can be found. Unhappily, the latest substitute, methyl iodide, is even more toxic to the people who apply it or live near fields treated with it (though it’s easier on the ozone). 

According to Pesticide Action Network, methyl iodide is “so reliably carcinogenic that it’s used to induce cancer in the lab.” In one of the most controversial decisions in its history, the Bush EPA approved its use in 2008. (I told the unhappy story of methyl iodide and how fumigants became necessary for large-scale strawberry production in a column at the time.) But California–the nation’s largest strawberry-producing state–balked, refusing to register it until it completed an environmental assessment.

But since 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been under severe pressure from methyl iodide’s maker, Arysta, to approve the poison for widespread use. As Tom Laskawy recently reported, the state is now on the verge of signing off on it. Just this afternoon comes this “alert” from Pesticide Action Network:

24 hours to stop methyl iodide. Please call now.

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Key Sacramento representatives have the opportunity to block the registration of methyl iodide in California during the next two days. They need to hear from you in order to take action. Tell them that our health and water are too important to compromise with a chemical that causes cancer, late-term miscarriages and “chronic, irreversible brain damage.”

Pesticide Action Network says that the only way to stop the approval of methyl iodide is if the California legislature intervenes–and the time frame for doing so is … the next 24 hours. Sounds like it’s time to hit the phones–and not just for California residents. First of all, California supplies strawberries to the nation. If California allows methyl iodide, then strawberries grown with it will be showing up at a supermarket near you. Secondly, what California growers do exerts influence on growers in other areas, like tomato farmers in Florida and strawberry farmers along the east coast. Pesticide Action Network gives the following list of California lawmakers who need to hear a public uproar against methyl iodide–or else it will be in use on farm fields very soon.

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Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny (D), Chair – Imperial
(Southern San Diego, all Imperial County, Coachella, Chula Vista, El Centro, Calexico, Imperial Beach)

Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield (D) Vice Chair – Van Nuys
(Van Nuys, Northridge)

Senator Mark Leno (D) – San Francisco
(San Francisco, Marin, West Sonoma)

Senator Alan Lowenthal (D) – Long Beach
(Long Beach, Bellflower, Artesia, Bellflower)

Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes (D) – Los Angeles
(North Hollywood, Pacoima, San Fernando, Panorama City)

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D) – East Bay
(Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Oakland, Moraga, Richmond)