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EWG Air Monitoring Finds Hazardous Levels of Methyl Bromide

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, August 18, 1997

EWG Air Monitoring Finds Hazardous Levels of Methyl Bromide in Yards of Castroville Residents State's Tighter Restrictions Not Enough; Neighbors Call for Ban of Chemical

CASTROVILLE -- The extraordinary restrictions imposed by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) during the Aug. 1 fumigation of a strawberry field with methyl bromide failed to keep the toxic pesticide from drifting into the back yards of nearby residents, according to air monitoring results released today by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Farm Without Harm, the Castroville-based group representing the residents, joined EWG and the Pesticide Watch Education Fund to declare that the results show that methyl bromide cannot be safely used under any conditions, and called for a ban on the chemical. They said the results are particularly alarming because school is opening soon, and dozens of schools in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are adjacent to fields where thousands of pounds of methyl bromide is used.

"If this much methyl bromide drifted onto our property with all the extra precautions that were taken, imagine how dangerous it's been before," said Mary Alice Johnson, one of the Revilla Drive residentswhose back yard was used as an EWG monitoring site. Johnson, whose two children attend schools near methyl bromide-treated fields,"It's frustrating because we feel that we can't protect our family, and we can't rely on the state to protect us either. Methyl bromide should be banned."

Monitoring in Johnson's back yard, 236 feet from the adjacent field, found an average of 490 parts per billion (ppb) of methyl bromide in the air during the first 12 hours. DPR's safety standard for exposure to methyl bromide is 210 ppb, but the agency insists on averaging levels over 24 hours. Even under that formula, and even if there were no methyl bromide in the air for the second 12 hours, the 24-hour average in Johnson's back yard was 245 ppb, well above the safety standard.

Karen Light, chair of Farm Without Harm, said the fumigation was conducted under the best possible conditions, with the amount of methyl bromide reduced and the "buffer zones" between the field and homes increased. Still, it wasn't enough.

"Last month, we told the DPR that the last four times the field was fumigated, poison has drifted into our neighborhood, but they still let the fumigation go ahead. "Now we're five-for-five," Light said. "It is clear from our experience and these results that there is no such thing as a safe methyl bromide fumigation. This must stop now, before any more residents, school children and farm workers are poisoned."

Jeanne Merrill, field director of Pesticide Watch Education Fund, agreed.

"DPR keeps insisting that its regulations limit methyl bromide exposure to 'safe' levels," she said. "But for residents on Revilla Drive and in other communities around the state, the issue isn't an acceptable level of poison, but the right not to be poisoned at all."

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