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Kristin Schafer's picture

Today, a pesticide that scientists have called "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth" is being pulled out of strawberry fields and off the U.S. market altogether.

I love good news. And this victory is a big one.

It's a win for kids living and going to school near strawberry fields. It's a win for families in rural communities, especially in California and Florida where most of this country's strawberries are grown.

And it's a win for farmers and farmworkers alike, as California invests instead in much safer ways to protect berries from bugs.

Scientists were outraged

Methyl iodide's demise is a fascinating story, with a cast of characters including outraged scientists, concerned farmers, marching farmworkers and mobilized moms.

Plus of course state and national policymakers and Arysta LifeScience, the pesticide company that - until today - was tirelessly promoting their product despite fierce opposition from scientists and affected communities.

Methyl iodide was a bad idea from the get-go, a cancer-causing pesticide that was railroaded into strawberry fields in California and Florida as a replacement for the ozone-depleting pesticide, methyl bromide.

More than 50 scientists - including five Nobel Laureates - told EPA not to register methyl iodide way back in 2007:

It is astonishing then that the Office of Pesticide Programs is working to legalize broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment.

EPA officials plowed ahead with approval. Then California held its own independent review in 2010. California scientists also voiced serious concerns, calling methyl iodide "difficult, if not impossible to control," and "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth."

Yet somehow - despite these warnings - the pesticide was approved for use in California too. Have to wonder just who those officials were listening to?

The happy ending to this story is that public outrage, fully grounded in strong science, turned the tide.

Even after California's approval, only a handful of farmers chose to use methyl iodide. It was just too controversial. So Arysta decided its product was just not "economically viable" in the U.S. marketplace, and pulled the plug.

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