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US farmers use pesticide despite treaty
Updated: 2005-11-28 09:30

That is not what the treaty envisioned, said David Doniger, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. In the 1990s, he worked on the protocol as head of ozone programs for the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Nobody expected you would use the exemptions to cancel the final step of the phaseout or even go backward," Doniger said.

With methyl bromide probably sticking around for several years, the EPA is re-examining its health and safety standards.

California, which grows more than 85 percent of the nation's strawberries and other methyl bromide-dependent crops, launched regulations last year to improve its strictest-in-the-nation protections for farmworkers and others.

The increased protections are not enough for Alderman, a teacher at Pajaro Middle School in the California agricultural belt south of the Santa Cruz beaches.

Kids chase balls across the grassy playing field. Opposite a chain link fence, just beyond the range of an errant baseball, is a field where strawberries grow.

When air monitoring detected elevated methyl bromide levels four years ago, Alderman joined the outcry. County officials say they pressed the grower; this fall he used a different chemical on the fields nearest the school.

Alderman, however, remains concerned because government scientists say methyl bromide seeps into the air. "We have that nice ocean breeze that blows it all this way," the teacher said.

Even California's required buffer zones and ban on applying methyl bromide within 36 hours of school time is not enough, she said. The school draws youngsters on weekends too, and families live nearby. "It's ridiculous to think that as long as we don't do it on school days, then were OK," she said.

The American Association of Pesticide Control Centers logged 395 reports of methyl bromide poisonings from 1999 to 2004. A national total remains elusive because farmworkers often do not seek medical care.
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