Skip to main content

Rachel Carson would be proud of the kids at Renaissance High School in Watsonville, California. Carson, of course, was the former U.S. Bureau of Fisheries biologist who, alarmed by the effects of DDT, wrote Silent Spring -- the Big Bang of the modern environmental movement.

Before Silent Spring appeared way back in 1962, no one questioned the indiscriminate use of pesticides. People assumed that better farming through chemistry was completely safe. Who would dare challenge the inexorable march of "scientific progress"?

Rachel Carson, that's who. As a scientist herself, she was able to build a devastating and convincing case against DDT. The chemical industry cried foul, but when President Kennedy asked the President's Science Advisory Committee to report on Carson's findings, they backed her up, DDT was eventually banned, and the rest is history.

Which brings us back to Watsonville. Almost half a century after Silent Spring, we now have an Environmental Protection Agency that is charged with protecting the health and safety of both consumers and agricultural workers by regulating pesticides and fumigants. But, in spite of greater awareness of the dangers, we still can't assume that the fruit and vegetables on our supermarket shelves are safe. And for the low-income workers who do the back-breaking work of harvesting our food, we actually can assume that many of them will be exposed to dangerous chemicals every working day.

One of those chemicals is methyl iodide. In "Refusing to Bend," a fine piece of reporting by Rosie J. Spinks for Sierra magazine, we learn that the EPA approved methyl iodide for agricultural use in 2007. The agency did so over the objections of more than 50 scientists (including four Nobel laureates), who considered it too toxic. We also learn that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation approved methyl iodide for use as a fumigant in December of last year. Again, the warnings of scientists were ignored. As Spinks writes:


Airborne transmission, groundwater accumulation, developmental effects, thyroid disruption, cancer -- these are some of the potential consequences that led an independent scientific review committee, commissioned by the DPR prior to its approval of methyl iodide, to conclude that "there is little doubt that the compound possesses significant toxicity" and would thus result in an "adverse impact on the public health."

Methyl iodide has been used in California but -- so far -- not in the Watsonville/Salinas area that produces half of California's annual strawberry crop. That is in part thanks to some remarkable activism by the students at Renaissance High -- the heroes of Spinks's article. These young people live at ground zero for this chemical. And they know that their parents will be on the front lines of exposure, so they organized support from farm workers and persuaded Watsonville's mayor and City Council to support a methyl iodide ban.

Their advocacy is working, so far. Already, Governor Jerry Brown has conceded that California should take "a fresh look" at methyl iodide. The EPA also reopened public comment earlier this year in response to a petition filed by Earthjustice and other environmental groups calling for the suspension and cancellation of the chemical.

Will methyl iodide eventually find its way onto the strawberry fields of the Salinas Valley? It's up to all of us. Let's make Rachel Carson -- and the students at Renaissance  High School -- proud. Please join them and take action now by sending a message to California Governor Jerry Brown.

Originally posted to Michael Brune on Thu Jun 16, 2011 at 01:44 PM PDT.

Also republished by California politics.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site