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Fresno Bee story skips ANR nematologist's point of view

Fresno Bee reporter Robert Rodriguez spoke to UC nematologist Michael McKenry for his methyl iodide story, which appeared in today's paper. McKenry's thoughts weren't included in the article, so I'll share some here.

Methyl iodide is a federally approved fumigant that is currently under review by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Farmers see it as a potential alternative for methyl bromide, which is being phased out because it reacts with ozone in the stratosphere, diminishing the earth's protective ozone layer. McKenry said methyl bromide will be unavailable in 2012, but it is already very expensive, costing farmers about $2,500 per acre for treatment, compared to $600 per acre 10 years ago.

However, methyl iodide has its own disadvantages, and McKenry feels those will be tough to overcome in California.

The pesticide is a known carcinogen. McKenry believes the protective gear that workers would have to wear for safe application would be problematic. He also said the company plans to label the chemical for a treatment level that is insufficient for adequate pest control. Finally, he said, methyl iodide will be expensive, even more so than methyl bromide, though the company licensed to sell it, Arysta LifeScience Corp. of Japan, hasn't yet shared the cost.

"It is without a doubt an effective product at high enough application rates. If farmers can use 250 pounds per acre, we can replace methyl bromide," he said. "But it only comes mixed with chloropicrin, which doesn't have anywhere near the type of activity against nematodes that methyl iodide has."

The Bee story did include a quote from UC Berkeley chemist Robert Bergman, who is one of many scientists and environmentalists opposed to the use of methyl iodide in the United States.

"We know that even in small amounts it can be very toxic," Bergman was quoted. "And in agriculture, you are talking about hundreds of pounds being put into the ground and covered with a tarp."

A likeness of a methyl iodide molecule.
A likeness of a methyl iodide molecule.

Posted on Monday, September 14, 2009 at 10:42 AM

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