August 21, 1997

Methyl Bromide Poisoning: Conclusion and recommendations

In an interview two days before Mero died, DPR Director James Wells compared her situation to the people killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from kerosene heaters. "I don't think you should use [Mero's case] to ban methyl bromide just like you wouldn't ban all use of kerosene heaters," he said. "These things are all accidents." (Bernstein 1997).

But was it preventable? If DPR had properly warned fumigators and local authorities of its March 1996 study, greater precaution might have been exercised in the fumigation of the studio near Mero's house. DPR had authority to go beyond merely issuing a warning, and could have immediately imposed new regulations requiring inspection for hidden pipes.

Furthermore, if DPR had told state lawmakers about the study when it was completed, the Legislature might have kept the methyl bromide ban in place, enacted a ban on structural applications or at least imposed additional safety restrictions on methyl bromide's use. Methyl bromide was the subject of intense debate and front-page news coverage at the time, yet DPR neglected to disseminate information with major implications for state policy.

Californians for Pesticide Reform and the Environmental Working Group urge that the following regulatory action be taken:

  • An immediate statewide ban on all structural fumigations with methyl bromide. The DPR study provides further evidence that methyl bromide poses an acute health hazard, reinforcing the urgent need to ban all uses of the chemical. Methyl bromide must not be replaced with other toxic pesticides, but with proven non-chemical alternatives. (See "Safe Alternatives for Home Pest Control.")

    In addition, we urge the following actions to hold the Department of Pesticide Regulation accountable for its failure to carry out its responsibility to protect public health and safety:

  • The appropriate committees of the Legislature should conduct oversight hearings into DPR's failure to disseminate the 1996 study, the agency's actions before and since Mero's death and its ongoing effort to dismiss the evidence that methyl bromide is unsafe under any conditions.
  • The Scientific Review Panel on Toxic Air Contaminants, a state panel made up of public-health scientists from leading California universities, should also receive an accounting from the agency.
  • The Legislature should transfer DPR's authority to regulate methyl bromide and other pesticides in air to the California Air Resources Board, which currently regulates all other airborne toxins except pesticides.