Run and hide from methyl iodide
“Arysta, stop making methyl iodide. It’s a cancer-causing pest-i-cide!”
A small crowd of activists chanted this verse on Monday outside the recently vacated San Francisco offices of the pesticide company Arysta Lifescience, maker of methyl iodide.
But they did more than chant: The group created a fumigation simulation by pouring warm water over lumps of dry ice placed under sheets of black plastic — a representation of the way plastic sheets are used to attempt to cover beds that have been newly injected with the actual fumigant. As the steam seeped out, it was a stark reminder that this known carcinogen has already been applied to several fields in California’s Central Valley.
Representatives from Pesticide Action Network (PAN) were on hand, including Paul Towers, a spokesperson for the group. “We’re here to send a clear message to Arysta, that they need to uphold their corporate responsibility and pull methyl iodide off the shelf,” he said.
The action was just one in a series of efforts by anti-pesticide groups intended to turn up the heat on the issue. Other recent efforts included an organized response by nearly 800 people to California Gov. Jerry Brown’s Facebook and Twitter accounts late last week, and a similar “mock fumigation” on the steps of the California state capitol. The California EPA approved methyl iodide last January, but PAN, United Farm Workers of America, Californians for Pesticide Reform, and several other groups joined forces immediately afterward to file a lawsuit challenging the decision.
The latest development is the unearthing of a series of documents that Towers says “demonstrated that the state’s own internal scientists knew methyl iodide cased cancer and was too risky to be used in the state,” and yet cherry-picked data to make it appear less dangerous.
One issue in question is whether or not the pesticide causes late-term miscarriages. The California EPA and Arysta have pointed to studies done with rabbits (in which a small percentage of the offspring survived) to indicate that the substance is safe. And, as Mother Jones reported:
In the end, [Department of Pesticide Regulation] scientists recommended that California set its limit for methyl iodide at two parts per million in order to reduce chances of miscarriage. This level was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal without incident. However, the EPA and Arysta chose to allow 10 parts per million.
Marsha Donat of Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific was in attendance at Monday’s action. “[The use of methyl iodide] is obviously a reproductive health issue, and we want to everyone to have planned pregnancies and be able to carry them to term if they choose,” she said.
Get Grist in your inbox