The state Department of Pesticide Regulation has released internal documents showing its own scientists did not support the decision to approve methyl iodide for use on strawberry fields. The documents were released by court order, in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the state. The suit argued that methyl iodide may cause cancer and miscarriages in farmworkers. Reporter: Amy Standen
Rachael Myrow: The state Department of Pesticide Regulation has released internal documents showing the agency's own scientists did not support the decision to approve the chemical methyl iodide for use on strawberry fields.
The documents were released by court order, in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the state. The suit argued that methyl iodide may cause cancer and miscarriages in farm workers. The California Report's Amy Standen has more.
Amy Standen: The question that plaintiffs have is this: Why did the state approve methyl iodide, allowing exposure levels more than 100 times higher than what staff scientists believed was safe?
When asked for documents that could spell out this decision, the head of the agency, MaryAnne Warmerdam declined to release them, saying they were legally protected. A public records request filed by KQED got the same response.
Earlier this month, a judge disagreed, and ordered the DPR to release the documents. Susan Kegley was one of the first to read them.
Susan Kegley: It's been very illuminating.
Standen: Kegley is a consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network, one of the groups suing the state. She points to a document in which Warmerdam responds to recommendations, from her scientists, about how to protect workers from the chemical.
Kegley: Her method was to consult with the pesticide manufacture and determine what was acceptable to them, and then decide on what an acceptable level of exposure was.
Standen: In that document, for example, Warmerdam writes that scientists' recommendations are quote "excessive," and may be quote "unacceptable" to the pesticide manufacturer.
The newly-released documents show a deep rift between scientists who believed the chemical was dangerous, and Warmerdam, who approved it.
Referring to the DPR's allowable exposure levels for methyl iodide, a staff toxicologist wrote, quote, "I am puzzled by the numbers cited." And later, that Warmerdam's methods for reaching those exposure levels were quote, "not scientifically credible."
Warmerdam resigned in March and hasn't been replaced. DPR Spokeswoman Lea Brooks declined to comment on the documents, citing the pending litigation.
For the California Report, I'm Amy Standen
Myrow: The pesticide that methyl iodide replaced is also making news. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says state officials did violate the civil rights of Latino residents in several California communities when they approved the use of methyl bromide.
EPA officials note this move is a first for them. They have a backlog of about 30 similar civil rights complaints. The EPA's settlement with the state comes 12 years after Latino families in towns like Watsonville and Oxnard raised concerns about the use methyl bromide near schools.
Lawyers representing those families say they aren't happy with the settlement. Among other things, they point out it does nothing to protect children from the newly-approved replacement chemical methyl iodide.