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California farmland fumigants challenged

Grass-roots public health groups have opened a new front in their five-year battle against California over rules to curb smog caused by the use of fumigants on farmland.

In a lawsuit filed last week in Sacramento County Superior Court, groups from the Ventura and San Joaquin Air Basins charged that in adopting new regulations last month, the state failed to analyze reasonable alternatives or to minimize the impact of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from treating strawberries and other crops.

"Pesticides rank among the largest contributors to California's notoriously smoggy air," said Brent Newell, legal director of the San Francisco-based Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. The center, which is funded by the California Endowment and various foundations, brought the suit on behalf of the Ventura-based Community and Children's Advocates Against Pesticide Use and three Central Valley groups, El Comite Para el Bienestar de Earlimart, Committee for a Better Arvin and the Assn. of Irritated Residents.

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation's new rules "will reduce smog-causing VOC emissions from pesticides by only 12% from 1990 levels in the San Joaquin Valley, instead of the 20% regulators promised in a June 13, 1996, commitment" approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the center charged.

However, Lea Brooks, a spokeswoman for the department, said that it had set the 20% reduction in fumigant emission levels only "because a judge ordered us to pass more stringent regulations than required." She said that the 12% was "determined by the California Air Resources Board as the reduction needed ... in the San Joaquin Valley" to meet federal targets to reduce pollution in the area.

    The center's first lawsuit against the fumigant standards was filed in 2004 and succeeded in setting a judicial requirement for 20% that was later overturned. But it has renewed its challenge, this time under the California Environmental Quality Act.

    Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to smog-induced asthma and respiratory disease. The San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles Basin are among the most polluted areas in the nation.

    According to Brooks, pesticide use varies from year to year based on weather, economics and other factors. In the San Joaquin Valley in 1990, 20.6 tons a day were emitted between May and October. In 2006, there were 21.4 tons in the same period, and in 2007, the latest year for which data are available, 17.2 tons.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Applying methyl bromide fumigants at a Camarillo strawberry farm. Credit: Steve Osman / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (7)

The comments to this entry are closed. sure like those farm subsidies.

An agricultural subsidy is a governmental subsidy paid to farmers and agribusinesses, at the expense of taxpayers, to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities, and influence the cost and supply of such commodities. Examples of such commodities include wheat, feed grains (grain used as fodder, such as maize, sorghum, barley, and oats), cotton, milk, rice, peanuts, sugar, tobacco, and oilseeds such as soybean...and most recently, the boondoggle of growing corn for ethanol.

And one more thing:
Your ignorance is showing.
You are all basing your opinions on what you really don't know.
Maybe you should come up and meet some of these farmers and find out what they really do before accusing them of evil.

I live in the Central Valley and know many farmers by name.
They DON'T make lots of $$$$.
They not only have to pay for pesticides, they have to pay for water, they have to pay someone to plant the crops, they have to pay for equipment to replace human labor, they have to pay living wages to their workers, they have to pay insurance and workman's comp on their workers, they have to pay taxes on their land and business taxes on their farm and income taxes on their own wages. They have to now provide medical insurance for all their employees, they have to pay for warehousing and storage facilities and diesel at these current prices to operate their tractors, picking machines, and trucks to, oh yeah, deliver food to YOU.
The return on their produce has to cover all of the above.
Many farmers keep their heads only slightly above water and little else. Caifornia is losing farmland to development at the rate of more that 5% every year due to farmers who sell their property just to be able to retire, because they are barely making enough to cover their costs and comply with all of your complaints as well.
You want to eat food, but you don't want to pay for it and you don't want to go out yourself and grow your own. You want your food clean and safe, but you don't want to pay the real cost of what it takes to grow organic.
As for fumigants and pesticides being one of the biggest pollution sources - that's a lie. Try multiplying the amount of cars on the road by 75% every year. Automobiles are still if not #1 then #2 source of air pollution. Automobiles are driven every day. Pesticides are applied only in the months of June, July, and August, and not daily but once or twice monthly. Dust is mainly only a concern during harvest season of August and September. More pollution is caused by your daily rush hour traffic than farmers ploughing in spring or harvesting in late summer and early fall.
Quit blaming farmers for your problems. Or would you prefer to starve when farmers no longer are able to produce food because all of you have tied their hands so much they can't even walk 2 steps without being slapped with 20 more pages of regulations? Because there will come a time when you demand food and there is none because there was no possible way for anyone to comply with every regulation. Hey, if y'all want to die from starvation because farmers will no longer be allowed to produce food, quit your complaining now or die of starvation. Because if the guys down the road stopped growing strawberries because of too many imported diseases or pestsand an inability to prevent them from destroying their entire crop due to your regulations, say good bye to your jams and jellies and strawberry lemonade. If the guys down the road stop growing tomatoes because you demanded water for your guzzling, say goodbye to your spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce. If the guys up the road quit milking their cows because of an inability to comply with cow fart regulations, say goodbye to your cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and butter. If the guys up the hill stop raising beef, no more fast food hamburgers and tacos.
Again, if you really want to starve, then go ahead and blame your environmental problems on farmers instead of your own unwillingness to give up your unholy over-consumption.

The smog in the San Joaquin valley is really bad. I remember hiking in Sequoia National Park a few years ago (out of a trailhead near the Lodgepole campground).

When I finished with the hike, I had that familiar chest-tightness (and difficult breathing) that I remember having as a kid during really smoggy days back in the 70's in LA.

Cleaning up the air there won't be painless, but one should be able to go hiking in a national park without burning his/her lungs up breathing ozone. If that means that fumigants have to be regulated, then so be it. Smog not only damages lungs; it also reduces crop yields (and farmers' profits).

Outlawed? Not really. Australia specifically requires many fruits and plants from California and many other locations be fumigated with methyl bromide before they can be imported.

The IRRESPONSIBLE farmers makes lots of $$$$; your children PAY the price! LONG past due to stop the chemical POLLUTION and crippling TOXINS!

how can you have an article about fumigant use in California agriculture without mentioning the fact that methyl bromide is outlawed internationally because of it's ozone eating potential, and that American agriculture is one of hte very few holdouts that have not stopped using the chemical??


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