Pesticide Use in California Increases after Four-Year Decline

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 4, 2012.  Pesticide use in California rose in 2010 after declining for four consecutive years, according to data released by the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). More than 173 million pounds of pesticides were reported applied statewide, an increase of nearly 15 million pounds – or 9.5 percent – from 2009. Overall, most of the growth in pesticide use was in production agriculture, where applications increased by 12 million pounds.

California’s DPR, which has the most extensive pesticide use reporting system in the United States and oversees one of the most comprehensive pesticide regulatory programs in the world, published its pesticide usage data for the state last week. Along with increases in agricultural pesticide use which reflects a 15 percent jump in acres treated with pesticides, post-harvest treatments went up by 657,000 pounds, structural pest control by 760,000 and landscape maintenance by 374,000 pounds. Reports are mandatory for agricultural and pest control business applications, while most home, industrial and institutional uses are exempt.

Pesticides with the greatest increase include 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D). commonly known as Telone, a fumigant whose use went up by 2.4 million pounds, or 37 percent. It is used on strawberries, almonds, sweet potatoes, carrots, and table and raisin grapes. This fumigant is an alternative to methyl bromide, which is being phased out under an international treaty to protect the ozone layer, even though recent research shows that methyl bromide is continuing to be used in alarming amounts across the state due to a sizeable loophole in the regulations. For more on the methyl bromide phase out, read here.

Other pesticides that show growth in pounds applied are metam-sodium, a fumigant used on carrots, processing tomatoes and potatoes; glyphosate, an herbicide used on orchard floors, rights-of-way and pre-planting for row crops; metam-potassium, a fumigant used to prepare fields for processing tomatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots prior to planting; and kaolin, a clay-based fungicide and insecticide commonly used on organic crops.

The new data also reports:

-Chemicals classified as reproductive toxins increased marginally in pounds applied from 2009 to 2010 (up 123,000 pounds or 0.8 percent) and decreased slightly in acres treated (down 770 acres or 0.1 percent).
-Use of chemicals classified as carcinogens increased from 2009 to 2010 (up 5.1 million pounds or 26 percent and up 566,000 acres or 18 percent). The increase in pounds was mainly due to increases in use of the fumigants 1,3-dichloropropene and metam-sodium.
– Use of cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides (organophosphate [OP] and carbamate
pesticides), which include compounds of high regulatory concern, increased. Use increased both in pounds (up 165,000 pounds or 4 percent) and in acres treated (up 509,000 acres or 14 percent). The greatest increase in pounds was the plant growth regulator ethephon, used mostly in cotton while the greatest increases in acres treated were ethephon and the insecticides chlorpyrifos and malathion.
– Use of chemicals categorized as ground water contaminants decreased by pounds (down 62,000 pounds or 5 percent) and increased by acres treated (up 65,000 acres or 8 percent).
– Chemicals categorized as toxic air contaminants increased from 2009 to 2010 both in
pounds (up 4.7 million pounds or 15 percent) and by acres treated (up 129,000 acres or 5 percent).
– The pounds of fumigant chemicals applied increased (up 4.1 million pounds or 12 percent) and the acres treated decreased (down 8,000 acres or 2 percent). Pounds of 5 of the 6 major fumigants (metam-sodium, potassium n-methyldithiocarbamate, 1,3-D, sulfuryl fluoride, and chloropicrin) increased and pounds of one fumigant (methyl bromide) decreased.

Major crops that showed an overall increase in pounds of pesticides applied over the previous year included wine grapes, carrots, cotton, almonds, and table and raisin grapes. The data indicated declines in pounds applied to rice, processing tomatoes, alfalfa, peaches, nectarines and applications to fields before crops are planted to control pests. California farmers, especially those in the San Joaquin Valley planted more cotton, which increased the use of some pesticides. In addition to cotton, crops that showed an increase in pounds of pesticides applied included wine grapes, carrots, almonds, and table and raisin grapes.

Generally, pesticide use fluctuates from year to year due to weather and economic factors, said department spokeswoman Lea Brooks. According to DPR, last year’s increase was mainly due to an abundant rainfall, better water availability for crop irrigation and the pricing of crops. An especially cool, wet winter and spring required more fungicide use to control mildew, Ms. Brooks said. Low summer and fall temperatures resulted in late harvests and led to more insect damage to some crops and additional treatments.

Beyond Pesticides sees it differently. “This increase relfects a failure of conventional, chemical-intensive agricultural systems, including so-called integrated pest management (IPM) systems, to curtail the most hazardous chemicals in U.S. agriculture, despite the availabiltiy of effective and profitable organic systems,” said Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides’ executive director.

These new statistics are troubling and show that pesticide usage continues to be a serious threat to human and environmental health. Despite the viability of organic agriculture, millions of pounds of highly toxic pesticides continue to be used unnecessarily throughout the state. The top five pesticides being used in the state, sulfur, petroleum and mineral oils, metam-sodium, 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D), and glyphosate along with a host of others that include methyl bromide, pendimethalin and chlorpyrifos, are linked to a myriad of adverse health effects including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and reproductive effects.

“The numbers released indicate that we’re stuck on the pesticide treadmill,” said Paul Towers, spokesman of Pesticide Action Network. “Instead of providing support and forward thinking policies to help farmers transition from pesticide use, our state is continuing the use of unsafe and outdated chemicals.”

Most alarming was the increase in the use of fumigants, Mr. Towers said, which are prone to drift and some of which are linked to cancer and groundwater contamination. The published data covers only pesticides used in agriculture, termite treatment and professional landscaping. About two-thirds of the pesticides sold in California, including chlorine used for municipal water treatment and home-use pesticide products, are not subject to reporting. Reported pesticide applications are only a portion of the pesticides sold each year. Approximately two-thirds of the pesticides sold, including chlorine used primarily for municipal water treatment and home-use pesticide products, typically are not subject to reporting.

Take Action: Want to do your own part to help reduce the release of dangerous and damaging chemicals in our homes, farms, and environment? Support organic agriculture and institutional IPM programs at schools and hospitals! You can even go organic in your own home, lawn, and garden. There are alternatives to toxic pesticides available for a wide range of pests whether in agriculture, or throughout the urban environment including structural and landscape pest problems. [email protected]“>Contact Beyond Pesticides for more information.

Sources: California DPR, beyondpesticides.org

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