By Malia Wollan The New York Times
Mar. 21.2012 - San Francisco — A manufacturer has pulled a controversial pesticide from the American market, surprising both growers and environmentalists who have warned that it poses serious hazards.
The soil fumigant, known as methyl iodide and sold under the label Midas, will be withdrawn immediately as a result of a review of the product’s “economic viability in the U.S. marketplace,” the Tokyo-based company, the Arysta LifeScience Corporation said in a statement late Tuesday.
In the five years methyl iodide has been on the market, it has seen relatively little use. Farmers have injected the pesticide into only 17,000 acres — mostly planted with tomatoes, peppers and nuts — mainly in the southeastern United States.
Although federal environmental regulators approved the pesticide in 2007, methyl iodide became a focus of fierce debate in California before it gained final approval from state regulators there in December 2010.
In hearings on the chemical, intended for use on the state’s lucrative strawberry crop, scientists and environmental activists raised concerns about its neurotoxicity and its potential to cause cancer and neurodevelopmental disorders. One member of the department’s own scientific review committee called it “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.”
Still, the company’s sudden removal of the product was unanticipated. “We were totally surprised by this,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, a spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission, a growers’ organization. The state’s farmers grow 88 percent of the nation’s strawberries, worth some $2.3 billion a year.
While the loss of methyl iodide means “one less tool in the toolbox” for strawberry farmers, Ms. O’Donnell said the industry was working with state regulators on a research effort to reduce the need for fumigant pesticides in strawberry fields.
Only one strawberry farmer in California used methyl iodide in 2011.
Environmental and labor organizations welcomed the company’s decision.
“This is a tremendous victory for scientific integrity in the face of corporate pressure, especially for rural communities and farmworkers,” said Paul Towers, a spokesman for Pesticide Action Network, a nonprofit environmental group.
The organization was one of 17 that sued Arysta LifeScience and state regulators in Alameda County Superior Court in early 2011, charging that it had failed to properly review the pesticide before approval. While a ruling was expected soon, it is unclear how the company’s decision to remove the chemical from the market will affect the case.
Methyl iodide was developed to replace methyl bromide, a widely used soil fumigant banned under an international climate treaty after it was found to deplete ozone.
Arysta LifeScience said it would keep Midas registered with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, allowing for a possible reintroduction to the United States market in the future. The chemical is also registered in seven other countries, including Mexico and New Zealand. Japan is the only other country actively using it to fumigate soil.