Methyl Bromide, a toxic and ozone-depleting pesticide commonly used on strawberries, is being phased out globally only to be replaced by something many environmentalists consider even worse: methyl iodide, a carcinogenic soil fumigant known to cause thyroid disease and miscarriage. Methyl iodide has not yet been officially accepted as methyl bromide's successor, but the pesticide industry is putting pressure on Governor Schwarzenegger to push its approval through in time for the August cycle of field fumigation, before scientists have the chance to fully analyze it.
A chemist working with the Pesticide Action Network said methyl iodide is so toxic scientists use extra precautions like special hoods and gloves when they work with even small amounts. Field workers would not have the luxury of protection, and they would be in contact with 100 times the amount deemed acceptable by state law. Another major concern is for people who live downwind from treated fields, as well as the possibility methyl iodide could leach into groundwater.
At the same time, Dow AgroSciences is requesting a field test of sulfuryl flouride to replace methyl bromide in California, Florida, Georgia and Texas. Sulfuryl flouride has traditionally been used as a fumigant in buildings, and is a greenhouse gas potentially worse for the atmosphere than CO2. Activists are protesting its use in fields, asking the EPA to turn down Dow's request.
The only way consumers can protect themselves while the pesticide battle ensues is to read labels and stay away from conventional fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Strange as it may seem, all of us environmentally-conscious strawberry-eaters may welcome methyl bromide back with open arms, if only to avoid a more toxic option.