Updated at: 11/21/2012 4:06 PM
By TRACIE CONE
(AP) FRESNO, Calif. - The maker of the controversial pesticide methyl iodide, used primarily to fumigate strawberries, has agreed to remove all of its products from the U.S. market and end sales permanently.
The U.S. EPA announced Wednesday that Arysta had requested voluntarily cancellation of all of the company’s product registrations, which means that the suspected carcinogen will no longer be used in this country by the end of the year.
The company’s decision ends more than five years of legal battles by environmental groups and farmworkers who had fought initial approval of the product during the Bush administration. It comes after an announcement in March that the Japanese company would voluntarily pull methyl iodine from the U.S. market.
Arysta said at the time that the decision was based on the product’s lack of economic viability.
"This is the final nail in the coffin," said Greg Loarie of the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, which represented a dozen groups in California, Oregon and Florida.
Studies have shown that the fumigant, also known as idomethane, poses acute public health risks because tests on rats and rabbits showed that exposure causes thyroid cancer, miscarriages and damage to the nervous system. Scientists also found it can pollute air and water.
Since it was approved in 2007 by the Environmental Protection Agency, methyl iodide had seen little use across the nation. California’s $2 billion strawberry industry, which produces more than 90 percent of the nation’s crop, has shunned it, in part because it carried severe restrictions on use near schools and residential areas.
Methyl iodide had been widely seen as a replacement for another fumigant, methyl bromide, which is being phased out under international treaty because it depletes the Earth’s ozone. Some growers are currently using up their supplies of methyl bromide, while others have switched to fumigants such as chloropicrin and metam sodium as alternatives.
Methyl iodide is injected into soil, kills bugs, weeds and plant diseases. It was also used by some growers of tomatoes, peppers and other crops.
Since many foreign countries look to the U.S. EPA’s pesticide registry to decide their own regulations, environmentalists hope the decision means its use will be curtailed worldwide. The EPA will take comments on the decision for 30 days.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)