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October 26, 2001-Overall California Pesticide Use Down but Groundwater Contamination on the Rise

October 26, 2001-Overall California Pesticide Use Down but Groundwater Contamination on the Rise

According to reporting data for 2000 released by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) pesticide use in the state is decreasing. Pesticide dependency continues to be a serious problem in California, with 22.9 million pounds of carcinogenic pesticides used across the state in 2000, or about three-quarters of a pound per Californian.

"The data does indeed show that overall pesticide use appears to be decreasing, most notably in the categories of carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxicants and neurotoxins," said Susan Kegley, PhD, Staff Scientist for Pesticide Action Network North America. "It appears that public pressure, proactive farmers, concerns over surface water contamination and implementation of the federal Food Quality Protection Act are finally beginning to make a difference."

There has been a continuing decrease in use of cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides, a category of nerve toxins. Two main factors are responsible for this decline. First, the U.S. Food Quality Protection Act has removed some of these pesticides from use. Second, concerns over surface water contamination have brought together the state government, regional water boards, grower groups, commodity boards, academics and sustainable agriculture groups are applying new ways to control pests that do not require neurotoxic pesticides. As a result, many growers have started using less hazardous biopesticides like Bt, spinosad and insect attractant pheromones that disrupt the mating process for pest insects.

Despite declining pesticide use in many categories, use is increasing in some categories and regulatory action to control exposures is weak or missing altogether. Use of groundwater contaminating pesticides increased, as did the number of acres treated with these pesticides. Groundwater contaminant pesticides are those that have been found repeatedly in California groundwater. Proposed regulations exist that would create Ground Water Protection Areas across the state in areas where the type of soil increases the likelihood of groundwater contamination. Yet after two years of waiting DPR has not taken any action to finalize the proposed regulations.

Use of fumigants also remains a problem. The high toxicity of these gaseous pesticides, combined with their tendency to drift off-site and very high application rates (100-400 pounds per acre) make these pesticides among the most hazardous used in California. Although the use of soil fumigants metam sodium and methyl bromide declined substantially--by 4 million pounds and 5 million pounds, respectively--major problems persist with fumigant pesticides. Increased use of substitute fumigant pesticides-- including Telone (1,3-dichloropropene), chloropicrin, and metam potassium--suggests that some growers are reaching for equally hazardous replacement chemicals rather than developing more sustainable and less toxic alternatives.

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