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California Study Admits Methyl Bromide Safety Standard Inadequate

California Study Admits Methyl Bromide Safety Standard Inadequate

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California Study Admits Methyl Bromide Safety Standard Inadequate
California Study Admits Methyl Bromide Safety Standard Inadequate

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Published by: Environmental Working Group on Jan 22, 2013
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Page 1Environmental Working Group
EWG Policy Memorandum
California Office • P.O. Box 29034 • San Francisco, CA 94129tel (415) 561-6598 • fax (415) 561-6480bwalker@ewg.org • www.ewg.org Contact:Bill Walker (415) 561-6598
 — more — 
California Study AdmitsMethyl Bromide Safety Standard Inadequate
 July 24, 1997
Since March 1996, when the California Legislature moved to overturn the state ban onmethyl bromide, the issue of unsafe levels of the pesticide drifting from agricultural fieldsinto nearby communities has grown from a local concern to astatewide controversy. In concert with community groups fromacross the state, Environmental Working Group has released aseries of reports detailing the results of EWG air monitoring anddocumenting the flaws in methyl bromide safety standards set by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. These reportshave revealed that millions of pounds of methyl bromide are usednear schools and daycare centers; that methyl bromide levelsexceeding DPR’s safety standards are drifting into suburbanneighborhoods; and that the health standards issued by DPR are inherently flawedbecause they are based on faulty assumptions, unsound science and political expediency.(EWG 1996, EWG 1996b, EWG 1997).To every issue raised by our reports, community protests, criticism from public healthscientists or inquiries from elected officials, DPR’s response has been denial. The agency has repeatedly defended its methyl bromide standards as the toughest in the world,asserted that the chemical is safe when applied according to current regulations anddismissed findings of methyl bromide drift as junk science. But even as DPR has deniedthat its standards are inadequate, the agency has changed key provisions of its policiesgoverning agricultural use of methyl bromide. Taken together, these actions represent asystematic retreat by DPR and an underlying admission that its safety standards do notadequately protect citizens from exposure to hazardous levels of methyl bromide.On July 18, DPR released a methyl bromide monitoring study conducted last winter. (DPR 1997). The agency failed to make thestudy public for five months after the last sample was taken, andthen attempted to downplay it by calling the findings “ambiguous”(DPR 1997b). In fact, the findings are clear: At four of sixlocations, and for three of the four application methods examined,airborne levels of methyl bromide exceeded current safety standards.
Health standardsissued by DPR arebased on faulty assumptions, unsoundscience and politicalexpediency. At four of six locations, airbornelevels of methylbromide exceededcurrent safety standards.
Page 2Environmental Working Group
Buffer zones under fire
DPR’s strategy for protecting the public from methyl bromide is based on requiring“buffer zones” around fields where the pesticide is used. These buffer zones werecalculated not by testing at actual application sites, but by computer modeling with datafrom experimental fields. Buffer zones are supposed to ensure that no one is exposed tomore than 210 parts per billion (ppb) of methyl bromide over a 24-hour period.But in the last year, the buffer zone model has been repeatedly exposed as flawed:• After monitoring by EWG and the Castroville-based Farm Without Harm detectedelevated levels of methyl bromide up to 1,300 feet from treated fields, DPR finally began a monitoring program in December 1996, and says it will continue throughthe rest of this year. Before December, DPR had not monitored for methyl bromidedrift since 1992.• In November 1996, after a series of statewide news reports on methyl bromide’simpact on communities, and EWG monitoring that found excessive levels of methylbromide in the backyard of a Ventura daycare center, DPR ordered that buffer zonescould no longer include backyards or schoolyards.• As a result of the findings of its winter monitoring study and intense public scru-tiny, DPR has ordered increased safety measures at two upcoming fumigations of  what the agency calls “sensitive” sites. Buffer zones will be expanded, treated acre-age will be limited, and small test plots will be monitored before fumigating theentire field. In addition, all wintertime buffer zones will be expanded.Based on EWG experience monitoring methyl bromide, we estimate that sometime duringthe month of February, DPR had results of its December and January monitoring showingunsafe methyl bromide level outside of buffer zones. Since that time, an estimated 4.9million pounds of methyl bromide have been applied in California, with no changes instate safety standards. This estimate is based on the average statewide methyl bromideuse reported to DPR for the months February through July for the years 1992 through1994. An estimated 800,000 pounds of methyl bromide have been applied in the five counties where DPR conducted its test, since the last sample was taken in February 1997; 600,000pounds in Kern County, 90,000 pounds in Riverside County, 67,000 pounds in San LouisObispo County, 37,000 pounds in Madera County, and 7,660 pounds in Imperial County.
DPR’s winter monitoring report
On July 18, 1997, DPR released the results of methyl bromide monitoring from December1996 through February 1997. The monitoring was intended to examine the effects of  winter weather conditions on the drift of methyl bromide from treated fields. In its reporton the winter monitoring project, the DPR states that “higher air concentrations may occur during winter months due to more stable atmospheric conditions” and that methylbromide buffer zones “may need to be adjusted” accordingly during winter months.
Page 3Environmental Working Group
Prior to these tests, DPR assumed just the opposite, namely, that
conditionsprovided the worst-case scenario for methyl bromide emissions from treated fields. Evenso, buffer zone standards have been based on two highly suspect assumptions: uniformstatewide average climatic conditions with no variation from season to season, anduniform statewide soil characteristics.DPR monitored in six locations in Madera, Kern, Riverside, Imperial and San Luis Obispocounties. Four different application methods were employed. More than 200 individual airsamples were taken. The results showed:
Current buffer zones are inadequate:
Detections of levels of methyl bromideexceeded the “target level” (that is, the state safety standard) of 210 ppb averageexposure over 24 hours outside the calculated buffer zones at four of six locationsand for three of the four methyl bromide application methods tested.
Common application methods can result in unsafe levels of methyl bromideoutside buffer zones:
 At one location in Madera County, using a common applica-tion method, the fumigated field was covered with a special “very high barrier” tarpdesigned to prevent methyl bromide from escaping. At this site, 24-hour methylbromide levels exceeded 210 ppb outside the buffer zone at all monitoring stationsand on every side of the field. Levels detected ranged from 260 to 990 ppb, nearly five times the standard. The average of the levels detected at the eight sampling sites was 550 ppb, more than twice the standard. These measurements were taken at theedge of the 30-foot buffer zone around the field, a buffer zone distance not uncom-mon for fields near residential areas. This application method was the same used atthe Ventura County site in August 1996 where elevated levels of methyl bromide were detected in the backyard of a daycare center bordering the field. (EWG 1996b)
• “Hot-gas” method proved too hot to handle:
 A newly developed “hot-gas”method of methyl bromide application, where the gas is injected into the field hotthrough underground drip irrigation lines, resulted in very high levels of methylbromide release. According to DPR, buffer zones of from one-half mile to a mile willbe necessary when this application method is used. In two of three instances whenthis method was employed, levels of methyl bromide of more than twice the safety standard were detected.
 Analysis by county 
Riverside County:
 According to the DPR report, safe levels of methyl bromide in the air were “probably exceeded” at both locations in Riverside County outside DPR-calculatedbuffer zones. In fact, the data show that safety standards were exceeded at twomonitoring stations at Field 2.Field 1 (25 acres), near Indio, was treated with 220 pounds per acre of a 98 percentmethyl bromide/2 percent chloropicrin solution on December 11, 1996. The 24-hourtime-weighted average concentration of methyl bromide in the air 330 feet from the field was five times higher than the DPR health standard. Field monitor number 5, located 530feet from the field, showed 24-hour average levels of 450 ppb, more than two times the

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