Toxic berries

Official ignores scientists’ advice on pesticide use

California’s former top pesticide-regulatory official ignored a recommendation from her staff scientists to regulate farmers’ exposure to a recently approved strawberry fumigant, according to media sources.

Mary-Ann Warmerdam—who was in charge of the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation until earlier this year, when she took a job with the Clorox Co.—dismissed the recommendation that farm workers be exposed to no more than a trace amount of methyl iodide a day, calling it “excessive and difficult to enforce.”

“Her method was to consult with the pesticide manufacturer and determine what was acceptable to them, and then decide on what an acceptable level of exposure was,” said Pesticide Action Network scientist Susan Kegley.

The scientists submitted a formal complaint, claiming Warmerdam’s decision was “not scientifically credible.” Exposure to methyl iodide is known to cause cancer, nerve damage and miscarriage. Methyl iodide is a replacement for the banned pesticide methyl bromide, which is still present in California strawberry fields despite a mandate to eliminate its use by 2005.