Friday, April 1, 2011

Progress! California Federation of Teachers Stands Against Methyl Iodide

by Sarah Parsons · March 31, 2011
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Scientists, environmentalists, and public health experts have all spoken out against the use of methyl iodide, a pesticide linked to cancers, thyroid disease, and late-term miscarriages. Now America's educators are joining the cause.

The California Federation of Teachers recently concluded its 2011 Convention, releasing a number of resolutions and constitutional amendments (pdf). One of the biggest resolutions deals with a topic not typically covered in the education sector — pesticides. Resolution One demands that the state of California immediately withdrawal the approval of methyl iodide until more research is conducted on the pesticide's potential health and environmental dangers.
It may seem strange that California's teachers would concern themselves with a pesticide, but it makes sense — methyl iodide impacts most of the state's residents, especially children. "The overall potential negative impacts of living and going to school near ranches, farms and fields on which methyl iodide is used for pest management — even with the legally required protections, application procedures, and buffer zones in place — pose unconscionable risks to the health and well-being of our children, their families, educators and school employees," the resolution read.
Indeed, methyl iodide's risks impact virtually all people who go anywhere near fields that use the fumigant. Chronic exposure to methyl iodide has been linked to cancers, late-term miscarriages, thyroid disease, and neurological problems. Breathing the stuff in can cause vomiting, slurred speech, and kidney problems, while touching it can burn the skin. Yet despite these health risks, the Environmental Protection Agency approved methyl iodide for use in the U.S., while California greenlighted the pesticide in December of 2010.
To that end, the California Federation of Teachers is making three demands: 1) that California engage in further independent research on the health and environmental implications of methyl iodide; 2) that the state immediately withdrawal the pesticide's approval until this new research is completed, published, peer reviewed, and made publicly available in Spanish and English; 3) that California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) immediately divest in Permira, a private equity group, until the company stops funding the maker of methyl iodide, Arysta LifeScience or directs Arysta to stop manufacturing methyl iodide.
The demands are strong, and similar requests are exactly what we need to get methyl iodide out of America's agricultural fields. After all, methyl iodide is so reliably toxic that it's used in lab settings to grow cancer cells. A poison that potent has no business being anywhere near our food, farm workers, or groundwater.
The California Federation of Teachers has done its part to get methyl iodide off our crop fields, but there's a way that you can help, too. The EPA recently opened up a public comment period on a petition asking the agency to immediately pull methyl iodide from the marketplace. You can voice your opposition to the pesticide by submitting a comment here, and you can sign Pesticide Action Network's petition telling EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that methyl iodide shouldn't have a place in America's agricultural system.
Sarah Parsons is's Sustainable Food Editor. Her work has appeared in Popular Science, OnEarth, Audubon and Plenty.