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California lawmakers crack down on chemical weapons fumigant widely used on strawberries


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(NaturalNews) The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) recently announced plans to limit the use of a widely used fumigant responsible for mass poisonings. Chloropicrin, an inherently dangerous pesticide, was formerly used as a weapon during World War I. Capable of penetrating gas masks, the chemical induced vomiting, causing the enemy to rip off their masks, thus exposing themselves to other deadly chemicals.

After the war ended, America was left with an overabundance of chloropicrin, prompting officials to seek out a new use for the lethal chemical. Named by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a "lung damaging agent," chloropicrin became an important tool for the agricultural industry as farmers discovered the chemical's ability to effectively kill nematodes, certain fungi and nearly everything else in the soil, including beneficial organisms.

Part of DPR's new regulations on chloropicrin[PDF] include larger buffer zones, better notification systems and a reduction in the amount of acreage that can be sprayed daily by the fumigant.

California cracks down on chloropicrin use, doubling buffer zones and improving notification systems

Chloropicrin is applied either through soil injection or drip irrigation. Tarps are typically used to cover treated areas in order to reduce chemical drift; however, this method is not always effective, as it's resulted in numerous mass poisoning events. Farm workers and citizens residing in nearby neighborhoods are often the victims of such pesticide drifts.

Under California's new regulations, buffer zones for chloropicrin have been increased; in some cases, they're double the size of those enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The new buffer zones apply when Totally Impermeable Film (TIF) tarps are not used, a tool that sounds good but is susceptible to being torn or blown out of place, according to Ann Katten, a pesticide and work safety specialist with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

California's old regulations required the minimum buffer zone for chloropicrin to be 25 feet; today it's 25-100 feet, depending on whether or not a tarp is used, and if so, what type of tarp is used.

The field size for which the fumigant can be applied has also been reduced. While the EPA allows 160 acres to be spayed daily, California set the limit to 40 acres a day; however, if TIF tarps are used, farmers can spray up to 60 acres a day.

Currently, nearby homes and businesses are provided with a warning in English before fumigant application; that same warning will now also be issued in Spanish. California's new rules require growers to provide the local county agricultural commissioner with details of upcoming fumigation at least 48 hours in advance, compared to a previously mandated 24-hour notice.

Chloropicrin use skyrocketed over the last two decades

While 70 percent of chloropicrin is used to treat strawberry fields, farmers planting other crops including raspberries, melons, peppers, tomatoes and nuts such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts also rely heavily on the fumigant.

When farmers first started using chloropicrin on strawberry fields in the 1950s, their production spiked unnaturally, allowing Americans to consume four times more strawberries than previously!

Since then, the application of fumigants has skyrocketed. In California, the use of chloropicrin rose 650 percent from 1991 to 2012, according to the state's pesticide data.

Over the years, several incidents of chloropicrin poisoning have occurred. In October 2005, at lest 300 people, including paramedics, were poisoned by the chemical when a strawberry field a quarter-mile away was fumigated in Salinas, California.

Two years earlier, a plume of chloropicrin drifted into the nearby community of Lamont after being applied to an onion field, poisoning 150 residents.

Fumigants have been tied to a multitude of health effects including cancer, respiratory damage, neurological problems, convulsions and tremors.

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