Today, the scientists at Pesticide Action Network released a document called Poison Gases in the Field: Pesticides put California families in danger. It’s about tests done with a device called a Drift Catcher that monitors the air for fumigant pesticides. They gave it a try in the California town of Sisquoc to see how well local residents were protected from airborne, carcinogenic pesticides. The answer? Not well.
You see, nature doesn’t think much of commercially grown strawberries. That’s because nature doesn’t like monoculture – vast fields of a single species, year after year. So if you want to overcome nature by growing strawberries as a monoculture, you need some potent toxins to do so. And that begins with soil fumigation, a process that uses a deadly chemical to kill everything in the soil before you plant your strawberries.
The test in this case was with a soil fumigant called chloropicrin. After a soil fumigation in which all of the application rules were followed and no equipment failure occurred, scientists measured levels of chloropicrin in the air. they found that “Average levels over the 19-day period were 23 to 151 times higher than acceptable cancer risks.”
“What’s striking about these results is what they imply about fumigation in general,” says PANNA Staff Scientist Karl Tupper. “Sisquoc is not unique in terms of how close fumigated fields are to people’s homes. The application we monitored was typical as well—there were no blunders and the amount of chloropicrin used was not abnormally high.”
“So if this is happening in Sisquoc, it’s surely happening in other California communities, and it will certainly happen with methyl iodide if it’s registered,” concludes Tupper.
Methyl iodide is another soil fumigant – and a potent carcinogen – that the state of California is currently considering allowing. Aside from cancer, soil fumigants are linked to headaches, vomiting, severe lung irritation, neurological effects, reduced fertility, birth defects and higher rates of miscarriage.
So, if we do away with soil fumigants and we don’t allow the use of methyl iodide, does that mean we can’t grow any strawberries? Hardly. Sustainable farmers work WITH nature instead of trying to overcome it, nurturing soil life instead of killing it. And it’s very possible to grow strawberries sustainably:
“Sustainable farming is all about building healthy soil,” says organic farmer Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm. “I’ve been growing strawberries for 25 years, and fumigant pesticides are the last thing I’d put in my soil.”