California Limits Controversial Pesticide Used on Strawberries

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California farmworkers will receive extra protection from chloropicrin--a common “tear-gas” like pesticide applied to strawberries, raspberries and almonds--after the state announced the strictest regulation on the chemical in the country.

The pesticide is linked to a number of health issues including respiratory ailments, skin problems and headaches—not just for the farmworkers applying the chemical but also for people in nearby communities.

Now, under new regulations issued by California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, farms using chloropicrin must increase buffer zones to 100 feet from where the pesticide is applied. Growers will also be restrictedto “fumigating 40 acres a day unless they use stronger tarps to preventthe chemicalfrom drifting away,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Growers are also required to give the state 48 hours' notice before fumigating and to notifysurrounding homes and businesses in Spanish and English.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chloropicrin has similar negative health effects to tear gas. Its use is on the rise as growers have moved away from methyl bromide, a controversial chemical that must be phased out per international treaty. In 2012, the most recent year for data on chloropicrin use, California growers used more than 9 million pounds of the chemical.

California produces close to 90 percent of the nation's strawberries, most of which are grown in temperate coastal regions, including Monterey, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties. “The population in those areas has grown, pushing residents and agricultural fields closer together and increasing health risks from pesticides drifting into neighborhoods, schools and work sites,” the Times reported.

“The rules will affect mostly strawberry fields, which are fumigated each year before planting and account for about 70% of all chloropicrin use,” the Times notes. “The pesticide is also used to protect raspberries, almonds, peppers, tomatoes and melons against a variety of pests and diseases.”

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