Methyl iodide challenged | The Jackal

16 Jan 2012

Methyl iodide challenged

Methyl iodide is a pesticide that is sometimes used for fumigating soil before planting. It's manufactured by Arysta LifeScience and sold under the brand name MIDAS, and is currently banned under the Montreal Protocol.

In june 2010, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) approved an application to import and manufacture the soil fumigant Ripper, which contains methyl iodide. In New Zealand it's mainly been used in the strawberry growing industry.

In 2009 a New Zealand study (Pay-walled PDF) showed that methyl iodide induces fetotoxicity in white rabbits when maternal exposure occurs during a susceptible window late in gestation. In fact evaluative studies performed as long ago as 1970 show that methyl iodide causes cancer and reproductive toxicity. ERMA appears to have ignored these studies in making its decision.

Approval in New Zealand was given despite the European Parliament banning the use of methyl bromide (a similar halogen to methyl iodide) in the EU from 18 March 2010 for environmental and health reasons and growing concern in the United States. Methyl bromide is used for the pre-export fumigation of logs.

The Council of Trade Unions called for a ban on methyl bromide in January 2010:

Professor Ian Shaw, toxicologist and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Canterbury, asserts that methyl bromide may have caused motor neurone disease in Nelson port workers after a cluster of deaths from the disease (see New Zealand Herald, Monday 25 January). Nelson’s port population has suffered a rate of motor neuron disease 25 times the international average.
“There is no evidence to justify any human exposure level to methyl bromide,” said CTU President Helen Kelly. “This neurological poison could have caused the fatal motor neurone disease in six Port Nelson workers, and its ozone depleting status means it is hazardous to us all.”

The problem is that methyl iodide was initially incorrectly classified. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA has been receiving submissions concerning that misclassification and the health effects methyl iodide is shown to cause. Here's an excerpt from the American Industrial Hygiene Association submission:

The AIHA stated that "a number of potentially carcinogenic substances for which PEL revisions are proposed appear to have been misclassified concerning their toxic effect" (Ex. 8-16, p. 6). The AIHA includes methyl iodide in this group of substances.

At the time methyl iodide was classified in the United States, top scientists in the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) warned their superiors of its dangers and strongly criticized the levels of exposure set by the political appointees running the department.

Their classification mistake has resulted in a potentially huge increase in cancer rates of people who are exposed... and continued litigation that could potentially cost entities such as ERMA (who approved the dangerous substance in New Zealand) millions of dollars.

On Friday the 13th, Yubanet reported:

OAKLAND, Calif. January 12, 2012 - Earlier today, California's Alameda County Superior Court heard arguments regarding the state's approval in December 2010 of methyl iodide, a cancer-causing pesticide fumigant approved for use on the state's strawberry fields. Methyl iodide was approved despite independent scientific evidence about the significant health risks it poses to children, rural communities and farmworkers. Judge Frank Roesch is anticipated to file an opinion within the next few months.
The judge did give some initial indications from bench about his opinions. "Did you consider not approving methyl iodide?...I don't see it. Absent that, I don't see how you can prevail in the lawsuit," said Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch. He also gave defendants until January 20 to make a legal argument that DPR was not required to consider alternatives to methyl iodide under the California Environmental Quality Act.
"The science is clear that cancer-causing methyl iodide shouldn't be used near farmworkers, rural communities and children," said Paul Towers, spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network, the lead plaintiff in the case. "This case highlights the breakdown in government decision-making at the hands of corporate influence—a dangerous precedent that must be rectified."
"The exposure levels that California approved as "safe" for workers are 120 times higher than the levels that government scientists say protect against miscarriages and 56 times higher than the levels they say protect against thyroid cancer," stated Jora Trang, Managing Attorney of Worksafe, a plaintiff in the case. "Children are more vulnerable to pesticides than adults, so methyl iodide poses a particular risk to teenage farmworkers and young rural residents. The approval of methyl iodide has made lab rats out of our rural children. It is unconscionable."

It looks likely that Judge Frank Roesch will find in favour of the claimants and methyl iodide will be removed from use in the United States. That will leave New Zealand along with Mexico, Morocco, Japan and Turkey the only countries stupid enough to allow methyl iodide to continue to be used and cause adverse effects in their populations.

With such idiots running things, it's no wonder New Zealand has the fourth highest rate of cancer in the world.

MSDS for Methyl iodide (PDF).