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Published December 01, 2010, 05:34 PM

California approves use of pesticide linked to cancer

FRESNO, Calif. — California regulators approved a pesticide Wednesday for use by fruit and vegetable growers, despite heavy opposition from environmental and farmworker groups that cite its links to cancer.

FRESNO, Calif. — California regulators approved a pesticide Wednesday for use by fruit and vegetable growers, despite heavy opposition from environmental and farmworker groups that cite its links to cancer.

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation will register methyl iodide as a substitute for the pesticide methyl bromide, which is being phased out by international treaty because it depletes the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

California’s $1.6 billion strawberry industry will probably be the main user of methyl iodide, followed by flower growers, who are concentrated in Ventura and San Diego counties.

The department tentatively approved use of methyl iodide in April, even though it is included on California’s official list of cancer-causing chemicals.

Regulators insist the chemical can be used safely and say permits will be required and strict guidelines will be followed.

“Methyl iodide is the most evaluated pesticide in the department’s history,” director Mary-Ann Warmerdam said in a prepared statement. “Methyl iodide can be used safely under our tough restrictions by only highly trained applicators at times, places and specific conditions approved by the county agricultural commissioners.”

Tests have found no traces of the carcinogen in fruit from treated soil.

Methyl iodide was championed as a safe replacement for methyl bromide when the EPA approved it for use in 2007. The pesticide is now registered in 47 other states.

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