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California Limits Use Of Pesticide Chloropicrin As A Soil Fumigant

Move to protect people from irritating chemical could raise price of strawberries

by Britt E. Erickson
January 23, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 4

Farmers in California are facing tough new restrictions on the pesticide chloropicrin, which is commonly injected into the ground to kill pests before crops are planted. The new regulations are intended to protect workers and people who live near fields that are treated with the fumigant, which is a powerful irritant to the eyes and respiratory tract.

California’s new rules establish minimum buffer zones of 25 to 100 feet, depending on whether a tarp is used to keep the fumigant from drifting into surrounding areas. They also limit applications of chloropicrin to 40 acres per day, or 60 acres per day if a tarp is used.

The chemical is widely used to control soil pests that threaten numerous crops, but about 70% of all chloropicrin is used to fumigate strawberry fields.

California produces about 90% of the U.S. strawberry crop, and industry groups say the new rules will raise the price of this fruit. The tighter regulations mean additional costs for strawberry growers, explains Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission.

Health and environmental advocates, however, say the restrictions do not go far enough to protect rural residents and children attending schools near farm fields. “Chloropicrin should be phased out by 2020, along with other hazardous fumigant pesticides,” says Sarah Aird, codirector of Californians for Pesticide Reform.

The restrictions are more protective than those at the federal level. “Our regulatory program is the most stringent in the nation and sets an example for other states to follow,” says Brian R. Leahy, director of California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation.


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