Sacramento, CA — The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced more stringent rules for the use of the pesticide chloropicrin in California. The DPR hopes to provide enhanced protections for people who work and live near fields where the chemical is injected into the soil.
Chloropicrin is injected into the soil to control pests which threaten a variety of crops including strawberries, raspberries, almonds, tomatoes, peppers, and melons. The fumigant is used in many counties including Ventura, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Joaquin, and Fresno.
California’s new rules are the strictest in the U.S., but the European Union withdrew all Chloropicrin products and discontinued its use in June 2013. According to the Associated Press 787 people suffered from exposure to the pesticide drifting through the air between 2002 and 2011. In 2013, 19 people picking raspberries in Monterey County were sickened, and in 2012, 15 people in their homes and two firefighters near a Ventura County strawberry field reported irritated eyes. The Center for Disease Control website reports the chemical was used in chemical warfare and riot control during World War I as an agent similar to tear gas. It is no longer authorized for military use.
California’s new regulations surpass U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendations. Brian Leahy, director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, says “If we’re going to use these tools, we’ve got to ensure that they’re used as safely as possible.”
Under the new regulation, farmers are limited to applying the pesticide on up to 40 acres in one day, a reduction of 75 percent. It also expands the distance between fields and human activity — in some cases to double the distance. Farmers use tarps to cover treated fields and will immediately begin implementing the new standards.
In May 2011 the use of Chloropicrin was voluntarily given up for use in Mushroom casing soil, potting soil, and small area seed beds using handheld fumigation devices. Growers are looking for alternatives after phasing out the use of another chemical, methyl bromide, to protect the earth’s ozone layer. Similar to methyl bromide, chloropicrin enables growers to start with clean soil to grow healthy plants year after year that need fewer pesticides later in the growing cycle to yeild more fruit per acre. The California Strawberry Commission announced more than $1 million in state and federal research grants to research alternatives and ways to reduce the need for soil fumigation.