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Commentary: Farmers must act to oppose unnecessary warnings

Issue Date: December 24, 2014
By Cynthia Cory
Cynthia Cory
A number of crops, including grapes benefit from use of the fumigant chloropicrin to clean soil prior to planting.
A number of crops, including almonds benefit from use of the fumigant chloropicrin to clean soil prior to planting.
A number of crops, including cut flowers, benefit from use of the fumigant chloropicrin to clean soil prior to planting.
A number of crops, including peppers, benefit from use of the fumigant chloropicrin to clean soil prior to planting.
A number of crops, including lettuce, benefit from use of the fumigant chloropicrin to clean soil prior to planting.

Have you noticed that California has truly become the "warning" capital of the world? How many times have you had to explain to out-of-state visitors not to worry, even though there are Proposition 65 signs in every Starbucks, hardware store, grocery store or parking garage they enter, warning them they are being exposed to cancer-causing substances?

In an effort to provide yet more warnings, the California Environmental Protection Agency is proposing that whenever a grower needs to apply the commonly used fumigant chloropicrin, he or she must first notify surrounding neighbors and conduct field monitoring.

The U.S. EPA allows a grower to provide the option of notification or to conduct field monitoring throughout a chloropicrin application. Field monitoring throughout the application is often the preferred method. It provides an effective emergency-response mechanism, because a trained employee is on hand and can stop an application, contact emergency agencies and initiate immediate remedies such as a water seal if any need arises.

Notification works well in many circumstances, but growers and applicators need the option of determining which process best fits the application site on a case-by-case basis. Consideration must be given to the cost and to the safety of employees who will conduct the door-to-door notification, the grower's personal liability if any detailed information is incorrect on the required bilingual flyer, and the repercussions that will occur from unnecessarily alerting a nearby occupant that a fumigant will be applied according to protective rules designed to assure full protection—but they are being notified about it.

What all consumers of California's nutritious fruits, nuts and vegetables should know about chloropicrin is that it is applied to the soil to kill destructive diseases and pests by trained, state-licensed and certified applicators. Crops grown in clean soil allow more productive yields that result in lower food prices. There is no uptake of chloropicrin into plants.

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation and other important national and international scientific bodies have confirmed the safety of chloropicrin. There are no valid studies that indicate any major health risks to consumers. Chloropicrin has been safely used nationwide by farmers for more than 50 years and is essential for more than 30 commodities grown in California. Growers of almonds, blackberries, cut flowers, grapes, strawberries, lettuce and peppers, among other crops, use chloropicrin to enable them to start with clean soil, so they are better able to produce healthy plants that need fewer pesticides later in the growing cycle.

Despite significant scientific research efforts, there is as yet no viable alternative for chloropicrin. It is an extremely important tool in the plant health toolkit and we need to ensure that growers can continue to use it effectively. The extensive U.S. EPA chloropicrin label requirements already include expanded buffer zones, posting, emergency preparedness and response measures, training for certified applicators and fumigant management plans.

It is important to note that DPR is proposing to increase buffer zones 16 times greater and maximum field sizes four times smaller than those now required in all other states. Farm Bureau and other organizations continue to urge DPR to accept the federal label and continue collaboration with U.S.EPA scientists, to mutually decide if any further refinements are needed at a later time.

But it is essential that all growers who rely on chloropicrin take the time in the next two weeks to contact CalEPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez. Provide him with details and examples of what it would mean to your operation to have to notify all occupants 50 to 300 feet from the edge of a buffer zone that would be determined based on your application rate and method.

While notification might work when there are only a few houses near a field, it is much more complicated when there are a large number of residences, such as apartments. For these areas, there may be access problems to placing the notices (including trespass laws); the same is true for gated communities. All of these issues mean a significant and unnecessary burden that either the grower has to address or pay someone else, such as the applicator, to address. In an urban situation where there are a large number of residences or businesses in a relatively small area near the field, monitoring by trained personnel is a better option.

Farmers who need chloropicrin for pest control must tell Secretary Rodriguez about the need to maintain monitoring as an option, and the complications and risks of having notification as a requirement in all situations. Simply writing that you oppose the requirement is not enough. A short personal letter would be best. His contact information is: Secretary Matt Rodriquez; 1001 I St.; P.O. Box 2815; Sacramento, CA 95812-2815;

Please take action to ensure farmers have the option provided in all other states, to conduct field monitoring or provide notification, not both. We need to stop "warning" citizens when there is nothing to be warned about.

(Cynthia Cory is director of environmental affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at 916-446-4647.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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