Thursday, December 06, 2007

Highly Toxic Pesticide Approved By EPA

by Tom Philpott
December 6, 2007

In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted temporary approval for use of methyl iodide, a highly toxic fumigant favored by large-scale strawberry and other fruit growers to sterilize soil ahead of planting.

The move generated outrage among scientists, though it didn't get much play in a news cycle dominated by the presidential election and high oil prices.

About a year before the unfortunate decision -- one of the most disputed in the EPA's history -- EPA director Stephen Johnson appointed a woman named Elin Miller to a high post within the agency. Before swinging through the revolving door to work as a regulator, Miller worked as CEO of the North American arm of Arysta, the Japan-based chemical giant that markets methyl iodide under the brand name Midas. Before that, Miller worked at Dow Chemical, "overseeing the company's public affairs, global pest management, and Asia Pacific operations," an EPA press release states, without an ounce of shame.

Coincidentally or not, weeks after the EPA gave methyl iodide the thumbs up, Arysta got snapped up by a European buyout firm for a cool $2.2 billion. Talk about the Midas touch.

In this age of Halliburton and Blackwater, none of this counts as remarkable or generates much discussion. Like a toxic fumigant, unchecked crony capitalism spreads a cynical haze over the political landscape. If we're powerless to stop the slow-motion calamity in Iraq, what can we do for a bunch of migrant farmworkers?

Yet each bite we take ties us to the people who grow our food. The methyl iodide situation deserves more thought.

©2007 Grist Magazine, Inc.


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