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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 27th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 51 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 51

Pesticide regulators pull the reins in on strawberry fumigant

CAMILLIA LANHAM

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is no longer granting exemptions to growers who want to use more than the allowable amount of fumigant "1, 3-D," which often goes by the commercial name of Telone. The pesticide helps growers clear out diseases from the soil before planting crops such as strawberries, bell peppers, and carrot--commodities grown in the Santa Maria Valley.

A statement released by the California Strawberry Commission said restrictions on the fumigant make it so growers have to use 990 times less than they would in another state.

Since 1999, Telone has been under a usage cap of 90,250 pounds. In official language, that reads as "adjusted total pounds" per township--an approximately 36-square mile area--per year, but regulators do allow growers to borrow from past years. That means if an area doesn't reach the limit for the fumigant in a given year, growers can use up that bank the following year if they need to. It's almost like accruing vacation days one year and using them the next.

In 2002, regulators also started granting exemptions in certain areas if 90,250 pounds plus whatever was left in the bank wasn't enough. One such exemption was made for a township in the Santa Maria Valley during the 2013 growing season, said Debbie Trupe, a compliance coordinator with the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner's Office.

"If there was an extraordinary need, they would allow you to go over that 180,000 pounds," Trupe said. "Now you can't ... when you're done with the bank, you're done."

Out of the 450 townships that use the fumigant, only 10 are likely to be affected by the new restrictions.

The limits aren't arbitrary; they're based on a risk of exposure to the fumigant over a lifetime for someone living in one of the 450 townships in California. Strawberry farmers are the most visible Telone users in Santa Maria. Buffer zones and tarps are a couple of mitigation measures used to prevent spread of the fumigant.

Trupe said that although those tarps are heavy duty, some of the gas still makes it way through and into the air. So what are the risks associated with those emissions?

Charlotte Fadipe, a spokesperson for the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), said use of Telone was completely suspended in 1990 due to a study that linked it to a potentially higher-cancer risk, if exposure to the fumigant was significant and consistent over a 70-year period. Fadipe added that the study was only limited to one county. The fumigant was allowed back on the pesticide market once restrictions were put in place, and those limits are constantly being adapted. Since 2009, pesticide regulators have been conducting a long-term risk assessment of exposure to Telone.

"DPR has seen some preliminary air monitoring data which shows higher concentrations of the fumigant in the air than we would like to see," Fadipe explained. "[Telone] is a know carcinogen ... therefore DPR wants to be protective."

Claire Wineman from the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, said the industry has always been as proactive as it can be when implementing mitigation practices that prevent the spread of fumigants such Telone.

"Whenever we're talking about these types of materials, it's really important that our growers have access to safe and healthy tools," Wineman said.