DPR plans new fumigant use restrictions

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) will impose new restrictions on two fumigants to prevent drift incidents and injuries in farm fields and neighborhoods.

By fall, DPR will put additional controls on metam-sodium and metam-potassium. Both pre-plant fumigants break down into a volatile gas that may cause eye and respiratory irritation. Several major drift incidents related to these chemicals have occurred in recent years.

"Strong efforts by our local partners, the County Agricultural Commissioners, have already reduced the number of incidents involving these fumigants," said DPR Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam. "Now we want to improve on that with new controls, based on a scientific foundation, that reinforce our 'zero tolerance' policy for pesticide injuries."

Warmerdam said the fumigant rules also would serve as pilot project for more public involvement in DPR risk management decisions. In the past, DPR issued local use recommendations to agricultural commissioners without formal public input. There is no statutory requirement to do so.

"The Schwarzenegger Administration wants fair and equitable environmental decisions," said Warmerdam. "People who hold an environmental and economic stake in pesticides deserve a voice in DPR's decision-making process. We already consult with industry and environmental advocates. We've also launched an environmental justice project in a rural, agricultural community. Opening our risk management process is another logical step for an environmental agency that is responsive to public needs and concerns."

DPR will hold public workshops in May and accept written comments through June. The new restrictions will initially take the form of recommended permit conditions for county agricultural commissioners. That will allow implementation this year. Next year, DPR will put restrictions into formal, statewide regulations that are subject to public hearings.

More than 14 million pounds of metam-sodium was applied in California in 2004 and about 13 million pounds in 2005. Metam-potassium use totaled about 851,000 pounds in 2004 and 1.9 million pounds in 2005. The fumigants are used to treat weeds and other pests in vegetable fields before crops are planted.

New controls under consideration include:

- - Extended buffer zones up to one-half mile, depending on application method, rate of application, acreage treated, and other factors.

- - - Special pre-application notification for sensitive sites (schools, homes, hospitals, farm worker housing) within 300 feet of the edge of a buffer zone; more restrictive controls on applications within one-quarter mile of sensitive sites.

- - - English and Spanish warning signs to warn workers in adjacent farm fields, if buffer zones extend into those fields.

- Acreage and application rate limits on other fumigants will be addressed next month, when DPR proposes new rules for seven fumigants to meet clean air standards.

- Tighter controls on metam-sodium and metam-potassium began with interim DPR permit conditions after drift incidents in the late 1990s. County agricultural nommissioners also invoked their own permit conditions in recent years.

- In 2004, DPR completed a risk assessment for MITC (methyl isothiocyanate), a breakdown chemical of metam-sodium and metam potassium. MITC may cause eye and respiratory irritation with brief exposure at relatively low levels.

- DPR's risk assessment led the department to support new measures to reduce the risk of acute exposures and illness. DPR decided to focus on soil injection and irrigation sprinkler uses, since they are the primary agricultural application methods. Other uses will be examined later.

- Public comment details:

- Workshop and comment sessions will be held May 30 at the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner's Office, Agricultural Building Auditorium, 4437 South Laspina St., in Tulare. The first session runs from 1 to 3:30 p.m. and the repeat session from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

- Written comments will also be accepted until June 30. Letters should be addressed to Linda O'Connell, DPR, P.O. Box 4015, Sacramento, CA 95812. Send e-mails to [email protected], or fax comments to 916 445 4280, attention Linda O'Connell.

- For more on proposed permit conditions, see: www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dprdocs/methbrom/fum_regs.htm#metamsodium

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