SACRAMENTO (CN) - California rolled out the strictest rules in the nation for a widely used pesticide to protect people who work and live near fields treated with the fumigant - particularly strawberry fields.
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation on Wednesday announced new restrictions for use of chloropicrin, a pesticide that is injected into the ground prior to planting crops that include strawberries, almonds, tomatoes and melons. The most common use of the chemical is for strawberries.
The pesticide is used in many California counties, including Ventura, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Joaquin and Fresno. In 2012, it was used on about 67,000 acres in California, according to the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).
Hundreds of people have suffered from respiratory ailments, skin irritation and headaches due to exposure from the pesticide, according to agency officials.
The new regulation is stricter than the standards enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Once again, California is ensuring that the communities where we produce and grow food are protected from harm," DPR Director Brian Leahy said in a statement. "These new measures are an additional safeguard for nearby residents. Our regulatory program is the most stringent in the nation and sets an example for other states to follow."
The new regulation will limit farmers applying the pesticide to 40 acres in one day, well below the EPA's allowance of up to 160 acres per day. It also will create larger buffer zones around fields treated with the pesticides, in some cases to twice their current size.
The old minimum buffer zone for chloropicrin was 25 feet. The new measures will require a minimum buffer zone of 25 to 100 feet.
Farmers who use proper tarps to cover their fields while applying the pesticide could be allowed to apply the pesticide on up to 60 acres a day with the smaller buffer zone. The tarps can reduce the likelihood of chloropicrin exposure.
The new regulation also increases the 24-hour notice to 48 hours for growers to provide details to the county agricultural commissioner about an upcoming fumigation. In some cases, homes and businesses within a certain distance of the treated fields must also be notified.
Because almond and grape growers use the pesticide only once every 20 to 30 years when they plant a new orchard or vineyard, the new measures are not likely to hit them hard.
"California's almond growers - many of whom live and raise their families on their farms - are deeply committed to protecting clean air and water for our children and neighbors. Because an almond orchard is a long-term investment, it only requires soil fumigants roughly every quarter century - if at all," said Carissa Sauer, spokeswoman for the Almond Board of California.
"When growers do need these products, they can be a critical tool to protect the health of orchards, and are applied by a specially licensed applicator under the oversight of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the county agriculture commissioner," Sauer said.
Strawberry farms, however, may face hardships due to the new regulation, because they use chloropicrin each season. Approximately 70 percent of chloropicrin use is for strawberries, according to the state.
The state plans to put the new measures into effect as soon as possible.
However, environmentalists believe that the recommended restrictions fall far short of the protections needed from harmful exposures to the pesticide.
The Pesticide Action Network of North America said that more than 1,400 people have reported symptoms from chloropicrin exposure since 1999. The environmental group also claims that exposure to the pesticide can increase the risk of cancer.
"Chloropicrin should be phased out by 2020, along with other hazardous fumigant pesticides," said Sarah Aird, co-director of the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform. "DPR senior officials continue to ignore on-the-ground realities as well as the findings of their own scientists, allowing widespread use of a highly toxic, volatile and drift-prone chemical much too close to California schools, homes and worksites."
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