After two decades of searching for a suitable alternative to methyl bromide, an ozone depleting fumigant, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation has approved the use of methyl iodide.

The decision, Dec. 1, means strawberry grower-shippers will have a reliable option when methyl bromide is no longer available.


Environmental groups immediately announced plans to file suit challenging the use of the fumigant and to urge Governor-elect Jerry Brown to reverse the decision. The activists maintain methyl iodide could be a hazard to public health and to underground water supplies.

Those concerns are not lost on the strawberry industry.

“Safety is the utmost concern,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based California Straw-berry Commission. “Each individual grower is going to be making a decision, and he’ll be thinking about the safety of his farmworkers and neighbors and about whether it’s possible to use this (methyl iodide) on any particular piece of ground.”

The state’s regulations and extended buffer zones also could minimize use of the fumigant because many farms are too close to urban areas, she said.

“This is the most evaluated pesticide in the department’s history,” Mary-Ann Warmerdam, director of the pesticide regulation agency, said in a news release from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “With the required health safeguards in place, methyl iodide can be used without risks to the public.”

The Montreal Protocol — and subsequent amendments — mandated that methyl bromide be phased out by 2005. However, it made exceptions for critical use such as crop production through 2014.

Both fumigants have proved effective in killing crop damaging, soil-borne insects, fungi, nematodes and weed seeds.