Archives for posts with tag: agriculture

From Red Bluff Daily News:

Pesticide drift from a commercial strawberry field in the Bend area has a group of residents actively concerned about how the chemicals used will affect their health.

When Sam Sleezer, 37, and his father-in-law Manuel Silveira, 65, installed new scientific devices to measure air quality on their neighboring properties in the Bend area, they hoped that they would find their concerns were unwarranted.

I’m not against farming, Silveira said.

However, results came back that levels of a toxic chemical found were far above safe levels beyond the time frame that it was supposed to be in the air.

The two men brought their concerns to the state capitol March 20 as discussion in the Department of Pesticide Regulation reached a climax over the use of methyl iodide that was approved under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The following day, the manufacturer for methyl iodide pulled the product and decided to no longer distribute it for use in the U.S.

However, similar chemicals, such as methyl bromide and chloropicrin are still in use and part of the compound applied in the Bend strawberry fields.

Concerned about his children, Sam and Manny, ages 3 and 5, who play just feet from the 50-plus acre field, Sleezer is considering moving if the county continues to allow the company to use dangerous chemicals.

Another neighbor already moved because of concerns, he said. There are still 17 children total that live all around the same field.

County officials say that Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., the owners of the field next to the Silveira and Sleezer properties, is within the legal limits and they have no good reason to deny the company a permit to fumigate.

County Agricultural Commissioner Rick Gurrola, who has the authority to approve or deny the grower’s pesticide use permit, based his decision on scientific data and evaluation from a legal standpoint, he said.

There’s risk with all chemicals, Gurrola said.

There’s risk with gasoline.

However, California is one of the most heavily regulated states and many chemicals banned here are used in other states, he said.

The chemicals used by Driscoll are within regulation.

The scientific data collected by the residents is flawed, Gurrola said.

Data was collected incorrectly and they are using uncertified equipment or techniques.

Sleezer and Silveira, who helped form Healthy Tehama Farms, a group of at least 20 individuals who are working to protect the community from dangerous exposure to fumigants, got a grant for $3,000 to perform the air quality tests.

The equipment, Drift Catchers invented by the Pesticide Action Network, collects air samples in small tubes that can be analyzed later for pesticide levels.

After analysis was completed at University of California at Davis, the report showed that over the eight-day study, during and after the fumigants were applied, Nov. 4-11, 2011, concentrations of chloropicrin, a known carcinogen, were on average twice as high as the acceptable levels determined by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

The results imply that lifetime exposure at those levels would cause 151 excess cases of cancer per 1 million people on average.

Silveira bought his property from a man who suffered from thyroid cancer, and with a quick glance across the field, he could name several other neighbors who had incidents of cancer as well.

He and Sleezer had heard complaints about sore throats, burning eyes and other illnesses when the fumigants were used, but nobody could prove it was from the pesticides.

Sleezer, a former soldier, remembered checking the mail in a community locked box next to the strawberry field when he suddenly felt as if he was back inside a gas chamber, he said. He and his wife felt their eyes and throats burning.

Some of the families are given a stipend and asked to stay away for three days when the fumigants are applied.

Sleezer, who works as a child guardian for supervised family visitations, keeps free-range specialty chickens as a hobby.

After a time away, he returned home to a nightmare, he said.

I came home and 28 chickens were strewn all over the yard dead, Sleezer said.

Clearing them out before his sons could see them, he saved some of the animal carcasses to try to find out what killed them.

After some testing, he still doesn’t know why they died, but the timing of the pesticide use was odd, he said.

Healthy Tehama Farms and the Pesticide Action Network have asked three times for the county to deny a permit to Driscoll Strawberry Associates without success.

More.

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From PRI’s “The World”:

Robert Law raises sheep and grows sugar beets, wheat, barley oats and rye on his farm about an hour north of London.

It’s a big operation set on nearly 4,000 acres of rolling hills near the town of Royston. One key ingredient makes it all flourish — nitrogen fertilizer. Law said he uses it for almost all his crops, because his land is inherently very low in naturally-available nitrogen, which plants need to thrive./p>

Law is hardly alone. The invention of nitrogen-based fertilizer in 1909 helped fuel a global agricultural boom, and it’s been crucial in feeding a growing population ever since.

But a growing number of scientists say that boon to our food supply has come at a big cost — massive, nitrogen-based pollution.

Mark Sutton, of the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom, said the threat to the environment is large

“We’ve known for many years that using nitrogen for fertilizer is a great thing for farming to increase productivity,” Sutton said. “But there’s a whole range of threats resulting from this nitrogen leaking into the environment.”

Nitrogen is an inert gas that’s necessary for life. But we’re changing it into forms that are harmful, overloading the environment with it, and throwing the natural nitrogen cycle out of whack, Sutton said. Nitrogen compounds running off farmland have led to water pollution around the world, while nitrogen emissions from industry, agriculture and vehicles make a big contribution to air pollution.

Sutton said the cost is immense. Last year he was part of a team of 200 scientists from 21 countries who studied the problem in the European Union. They calculated the dollar value of the damage from nitrogen pollution at between $90 billion and $400 billion per year.

That’s “a massive number,” Sutton said.

The cost comes to both the environment and human health. For instance, Sutton said, particulate air pollution caused in part by nitrogen shortens the lives of many Europeans by more than a year. Overall, the EU report estimated that the cost of nitrogen pollution in the EU is more than double the value that nitrogen fertilizers add to European farm income.

“So these are significant issues,” Sutton said.

The EU study is the first to calculate these costs in Europe. But Alan Townsend, an ecologist at the University of Colorado, insists nitrogen pollution is “unquestionably” a global problem.

The U.S. is also a major hotspot, and big problems are emerging in China, Southeast Asia and Latin America. The impacts of nitrogen pollution can be hard to recognize. Big environmental disasters like oil spills tend to grab all the attention, Townsend said, but “there is essentially a nitrogen spill everyday.”

The irony is that in the right places and chemical forms, nitrogen is valuable stuff. Every ounce of fertilizer that runs off a field into a river is a waste of resources and money. But Townsend said it’s a problem that shouldn’t be that hard to solve.

“This is not one of those problems where we sit around scratching our heads and say, ‘Man this is going to be a disaster, how are we going to deal with it, there’s nothing we can do,’” he said. “A lot of the solutions are right in front of us. It’s just about moving down that path.”

That path includes increasing the use of technology to cut nitrogen pollutants from power plants and vehicles, which is already widely used in the U.S. and Europe.

Cutting nitrogen pollution from food production is a more complicated challenge, but Townsend says on the farm field itself, it comes down to a simple principle: use fertilizer more efficiently.

“We have to approach it as an efficiency problem,” he said. “How do we maximize the benefits that we’re going to get from this stuff and minimize the unwanted consequences?”

Law is trying to rise to that challenge. He prides himself on running a farm that’s not only productive, but environmentally sensitive.

His tractor now sports a small computer console that his farmhands use to ensure each field gets only the exact amount of fertilizer it needs, depending on the crop, the season and the weather.

“We just program each individual field as we come to it,” said farm worker Mark Moule. ”Just press start and finish and one minute you’ll be putting 50 kilos on per hectare, next minute it’s 150.”

That kind of precision helps reduce the amount of nitrogen that runs off farm fields into nearby streams. It can also help save money on fertilizer.

But this kind of technology is expensive, and many smaller farms can’t afford it.

For his part, Law is willing to look for even more efficient ways to use fertilizer. But he warns that Britain and the rest of the world face a growing challenge when it comes to feeding a growing population.

“The area available for farming in this country is getting smaller each year,” Law laments. “Roads are being built, towns are being built.”

It’s a global trend — less farmland and more mouths to feed. And that will only add to the challenge of getting rid of the excess nitrogen we’ve been putting into the environment.

Listen to the story and get more information here.

From California Watch:

California’s former top pesticide regulatory official dismissed safety guidelines suggested by her own staff scientists on the grounds that they were “excessive” and too onerous for the pesticide manufacturer, recently released internal documents show.

In response, the scientists lodged a formal protest, calling the official’s actions “not scientifically credible,” according to the documents released by court order last week.

The documents amount to a “smoking gun,” says Paul Blanc, a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at UC San Francisco. Last year, Blanc helped advise the staff scientists on their evaluation of the pesticide, methyl iodide.

“The decision by the regulatory superiors was not science-based,” Blanc said.

In one of the documents, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, who led the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation until this year, weighs a recommendation from her staff that farm workers be exposed to no more than a trace amount of methyl iodide per day. The recommendation – intended to protect farm workers from cancer and miscarriage – is “excessive and difficult to enforce,” Warmerdam wrote in April 2010, about two weeks before the department made its recommendation that California approve methyl iodide. If the restrictions on methyl iodide were approved, she wrote, the pesticide manufacturer might find the recommendations “unacceptable, due to economic viability.”

“(Warmerdam’s) method was to consult with the pesticide manufacturer and determine what was acceptable to them, and then decide on what an acceptable level of exposure was,” said Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist for the Pesticide Action Network, a group suing the state.

Department spokeswoman Lea Brooks declined to comment on the documents, citing the pending litigation. “It is inappropriate to try this case in the media,” Brooks said.

Warmerdam resigned from the department in January. Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to appoint a successor.

Methyl iodide was approved in December 2010, at the tail end of the Schwarzenegger administration. It’s a chemical fumigant used primarily by strawberry growers. A coalition of environmental and farm-worker groups has sued the state to try to ban the chemical.

As part of the suit, the groups asked the Department of Pesticide Regulation to release documents explaining how the agency decided to approve the chemical. The plaintiffs wanted to know how the agency had settled on exposure levels more than 100 times higher than what scientists within the agency believed were safe.

When pressed for documents that might reveal the agency’s rationale, Warmerdam declined to release them, citing the “deliberative process” exemption, which allows government agencies to keep the thought process behind a decision private. A public records act request filed by California Watch and KQED QUEST elicited the same response.

Earlier this month, a judge disagreed, ordering the department to release the documents, which plaintiffs shared with reporters on Thursday.

“DPR has an obligation to explain to the public the basis for its decision,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who is representing the plaintiffs. “The public has every right to know that DPR approved methyl iodide over the objections of its own staff scientists.”

That rift between scientists and regulators first became public last year, in an e-mail exchange unearthed by KQED QUEST and California Watch’s Public Records Act request. In the e-mails, two staff toxicologists – Lori Lim and Ruby Reed – said they had not been part of the decision to approve methyl iodide, and they stood by their original work.

“We had to read between the lines to figure out how the target levels were calculated,” they wrote. Both Lim and Reed have since resigned from the department.

The new documents show staff scientists sending their complaints up the department’s chain of command.

“I am puzzled by the numbers,” staff scientist Jay Schreider wrote in a memo to the state’s top toxicologist, Gary Patterson. Approving methyl iodide was “management’s prerogative,” Schreider wrote. But he said managers should not imply that the scientists’ findings “are the basis for that decision, or that the apparent ‘mix and match’ approach provides a scientifically credible basis for the decision.”

In his order, Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court found that the “great majority” of the department’s documents should never have been withheld in the first place. As for the rest, Roesch found “the interest in public disclosure clearly outweighs agency interest in non-disclosure.”

The documents reveal a rare point of agreement between the department’s scientists and its managers: that methyl iodide may cause brain damage in developing fetuses.

When California first began evaluating methyl iodide, it took the unusual step of bringing in an outside group of scientists, hired to work alongside department scientists, as an independent peer-review group. The scientists, including UCSF’s Blanc, worried that methyl iodide could drift up from strawberry fields and be inhaled by pregnant farm workers or children playing nearby, causing subtle effects such as IQ loss, which might never be detected or traced back to the chemical.

“Methyl iodide concentrates in the fetal brain to levels well above those in the mother,” they wrote in their assessment. “There is a high likelihood that methyl iodide is a developmental neurotoxin.”

The new documents show department managers also contending with the lack of data about methyl iodide’s potential effects on developing brains. In animal tests, they wrote, “several measures of neurological deficiency were measured. … Overall, there is a need for a more thorough investigation into developmental neurotoxicity in pre- and post-natal exposures to methyl iodide, because the existing data do not address these exposures.”

More.

(Image Creative Commons by Donnaphoto.)

From TEDxTalks:

Joel Salatin is an American farmer, lecturer, and author whose books include You Can Farm and Salad Bar Beef. Salatin raises livestock using holistic methods of animal husbandry, free of potentially harmful chemicals, on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. Salatins 550-acre farm is featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivores Dilemma and the documentary film, Food, Inc.

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