What's at stake?
No Methyl iodideMethyl iodide is so reliably carcinogenic that it’s used to induce cancer in the lab. Even so, Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience Corporation is pushing for its use. Arysta seeks approval for the use of methyl iodide as a soil fumigant - injected as a gas into the fields of communities across California and the U.S.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first registered methyl iodide as a pesticide on October 5th, 2007, despite a letter from dozens of distinguished chemists saying that it is “astonishing” that the EPA is considering “broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment.” EPA initially limited its approval, registering methyl iodide for only one year. Then, during the final months of the Bush Administration, EPA quietly removed the time limits on its decision, effectively giving Arysta a green light for entry into the United States' market.
However, on September 25, 2009, U.S. EPA agreed to reopen its decision on methyl iodide, pending results of a California Scientific Review Committee. The science is in. The Committee's final report (PDF), which found (PDF) that "any anticipated scenario for the agricultural...use of this agent would...have a significant adverse impact on the public health," was posted on DPR's website on February 11, 2010. Scientists call methyl iodide "difficult, if not impossible, to control." Read the conclusions of the official Scientific Review Committee, convened by California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).
Despite scientist concerns, on April 30, 2010, California proposed using methyl iodide in agriculture. A public comment period concerning the proposal closed on June 29th with more than 50,000 comments -- the vast majority of which were in opposition -- registered with DPR. The public outcry set a record for the most comments ever recieved by the agency in response to a pesticide registration decision. DPR's final ruling may come at any time, but may take months.
California's decision will have national implications
California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has issued a provisional decision to approve methlyl iodide for use in the state despite the fact that is "known to the state of California to cause cancer" and it is listed under proposition 65. If methyl iodide is registered in California and becomes a popular replacement for the other fumigants, millions of pounds of itwill be released each year into the environment, especially in strawberry-growing areas where methyl bromide is currently used. (Methyl bromide is being phased out due to its serious environmental problems.)
During the September 2009 Scientific Review Panel hearing in Sacramento, U.S. EPA staff indicated they would reopen their national approval of methyl iodide, pending informaiton from the panel. Take Action >> A legal petition was submitted to U.S. EPA on March 31, 2010, urging a rethinking of their national decision. Sign the petition.
* The New York Times discusses how California's decision has national implications. June 18, 2010.
* The Huffington Post notes that California regulators are ignoring the recommendations of its own experts, as well as those of independent scientists, in setting acceptable exposure levels for methyl iodide. June 7, 2010.
* Thousands of concerned California residents are taking action by voicing their concerns to DPR, reports the Sacramento Bee. June 5, 2010.
* The San Francisco Chronicle calls methyl iodide a "cancer-causing poison." June 2, 2010.
* Forty-nine scientists and five Nobel laureates have made statements opposing the usage of methyl iodide, reports United Press International. June 2, 2010.
* Methyl iodide "would have a significant adverse impact on the public health", says the committee of scientists commissioned to review this toxic chemical. June 2, 2010.
* "Methyl iodide is so toxic, lab scientists use only small amounts with special protective equipment." May 21, 2010.
* California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) proposes use of methyl iodide on farm fields, April 30, 2010.
* Profiles of Poison: Californians who are survivors of pesticide poisoning tell their stories about why methyl iodide should not be legal. April 26, 2010.
* California legislative hearing on methyl iodide held August 19, 2009. ABC News Television Coverage.
* Letter (PDF) to California Governor Scwarzenegger and Department of Pesticide Regulation Director Warmerdam from State Legislators, July 27, 2009.
* On July 7, 2008, Florida approved a conditional methyl iodide registration. On January 14, 2009, New York sent a letter to Arysta LifeScience accepting withdrawal of the corporation's applications to register methyl iodide products. New York cited concern "for significant worker exposure potential" and "for exposure to bystanders and nearby residents from both routine applications and mishaps associated with the application of these products."
Who makes methyl iodide? How did this happen?
Arysta LifeScience is the company that is working to register this chemical (the registrant). U.S. EPA released its preliminary assessment in January 2006, inviting public comment through February 21, 2006. Pesticide Action Network (PANNA) submitted detailed comments to EPA. Download these letters here:
* PANNA's Technical Comment letter on methyl iodide (pdf)
* PANNA's General Comment letter on fumigants (pdf)
During the public comment period, more than 12,500 individuals weighed in to tell EPA that they did not want methyl iodide used in their communities andworkplaces.
On April 19, 2006, U.S. EPA announced that it was denying registration for methyl iodide in 2006, and that the chemical might be reconsidered in 2007. On September 28, 2007, U.S. EPA announced that it had “conducted a thorough scientific evaluation of the soil fumigant iodomethane.” U.S. EPA registered methyl iodide on October 5th, 2007, taking the unusual step of registering the pesticide for only one year. Then, during the final months of the Bush Administration, EPA quietly extended the registration of methyl iodide. However, on September 25, 2009, U.S. EPA publicly agreed to reopen its decision on methyl iodide, pending results of an independent scientific review in California.
* Quick Background Information on Methyl Iodide
* EPA Health Risk Assesment Report
Public Health at Risk
Fumigant pesticides are drift-prone chemicals injected into the soil at application rates of 50-400 pounds per acre. The maximum application rate for methyl iodide is 175 pounds per acre. Chemically related to methyl bromide—a fumigant scheduled for phaseout under the Montreal Protocol because of its ozone-depleting potential—methyl iodide is muchmore reactive than methyl bromide, reacting with air and water beforeit can be transported to the stratospheric ozone layer.For this reason, methyl iodide is not an ozone-depleting chemical; nevertheless, there are a number of reasons why EPA should have refused the registration of this chemical.
Enough is known about this chemical to predict that its use for soil fumigation will result in unhealthy human exposures. A history of mass poisonings involving other fumigants is part of the basis for this prediction.
For a recent example, consider the 121 people who were poisoned in Nevada on September 26, 2007, even as EPA was days away from its decision on methyl iodide. EPA's proposed buffer zones for iodomethane are at most 500 feet. The farmworkers who were poisoned were in a field half a mile from the one being fumigated. One can readily see from this incident that EPA's maximum 500-foot buffer zones are a fraction of the size that would be required to prevent recurrences of poisonings. Unfortunately, "feasibility" dictates the buffer zone sizes as much as health protection.
Real-world incidents are corroborated by EPA's detailed models which show that the buffer zones they have settled on are inadequate a few percent of the time for those who are unfortunate enough to be in the downwind direction. The game of roulette depends principally on the weather on the day of the fumigation. Light winds and clear skies near sunset lead to "inversions" which keep fumigants escaping from the ground from dispersing. Under these conditions, the models show and real-world incidents confirm that unhealthy concentrations of fumigant gas build up over thefield and then slowly drift into neighboring communities.
Unless EPA's decision to approve methyliodide as a soil fumigant is reversed, farmworkers, rural communities,and new suburbanites whose properties face or abut fields will be at risk, particularly those in States with high fumigant use—California,Washington and Florida. Public health protection should be the primary consideration for pesticide registration, and EPA should use the 1-year registration as an opportunity to reverse its decision on methyl iodide.
Methyl Iodide is Chemically Reactive
Chemists use special techniques to protect themselves while handling even small quantities of methyl iodide in the laboratory. Source: PANNA Archives
Chemists use special techniques to protect themselves while handling even small quantities of methyl iodide in the laboratory. Source: PANNA Archives
Methyl iodide is widely used in chemical synthesis because of its extraordinary ability to react with electron-rich molecules. Specifically, it reacts readily with biomolecules like DNA, the genetic material in cells, in a process that alters the structure of DNA, causing mutations. Synthetic chemists treat this chemical with great respect, handling it only in a hood under an inert atmosphere and using specially sealed bottles and syringes for transfer to ensure that none of this highly toxic chemical escapes. The proposed release of massive amounts of this chemical into the environment is contrary to safe chemical management practices.
Methyl Iodide Will Contaminate Air and Water
Because methyl iodide is highly volatile, it is as drift-prone as other fumigants. As a result, bystander inhalation exposure will be high if this chemical is applied as a soil fumigant. Methyl iodide is also a volatile organic compound (VOC) that will contribute to ground-level ozone, which is known to exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Soil fumigation with methyl iodide poses a risk of groundwater contamination as well. A study of methyl iodide-treated soils demonstrated that cumulative volatilization losses from sandy loam soils ranged from 94% of the amount applied in non-tarped soils to 75% in soils covered with high-barrier tarps.  Tarping increased downward movement of the pesticide into the soil, which increased leaching into groundwater. The half-life of methyl iodide in soil depends on soil type, from 42 to 63 days for sandy loam soils and 9 to 13 days in soils rich in organic matter. 
Methyl Iodide is Acutely Toxic
Methyl iodide affects the nervous system, the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Symptoms of acute poisoning from inhalation include dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, diarrhea, slurred speech, lack of coordination, and muscle convulsions.  Methyl iodide is six times more acutely toxic than methyl bromide, and about twice as toxic as 1,3-dichloropropene (Telone). To date, neither U.S. EPA nor California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation have set an acceptable level of human exposure for this chemical, but the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has set an eight to ten-hour worker (adult male) exposure limit of 10 mg/m3 based on the chemical's acute toxicity.  "Acceptable" exposures for children developed through risk assessment are typically 10-1,000 times lower than those for healthy adult males. EPA has listed methyl iodide as a Hazardous Air Pollutant generally known or suspected to cause serious health problems.
Methyl Iodide is a Carcinogen
The chemical reactivity of methyl iodide mentioned above has biological consequences. Vapors of methyl iodide induce DNA damage and are “mutagenic to bacteria in the presence or absence of an exogenous metabolic system” (the Ames test).  Methyl iodide is also commonly used to create mutant mammalian cell lines in the laboratory. Radioactive labeling studies in rats demonstrate DNA damage to the lungs and digestive tract specifically caused by methyl iodide. Because of this chemical reactivity, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended that methyl iodide be considered as a potential occupational carcinogen,  and the state of California lists it as a chemical "known to the State of California to cause cancer." 
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) indicates that: "No epidemiological data relevant to the carcinogenicity of methyl iodide were available. There is limited evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of methyl iodide." Because of this lack of data, IARC lists this chemical as "unclassifiable" as to its carcinogenicity.  While there are no recent cancer studies in the primary literature, the older animal studies cited and described by IARC indicate that cancers resulted from exposure to this chemical in all experiments at most dose levels tested, and in some instances from only a single moderate exposure.
"Groups of BD rats (substrain and sex unspecified), about 100 days old, received weekly subcutaneous injections of 10 (16 animals) or 20 mg/kg body weight (eight animals) methyl iodide (purity unspecified) in arachis oil for about one year (total dose, 500 or 900 mg/kg body weight), or a single subcutaneous injection of 50 mg/kg body weight (14 animals), and were observed for life. Four and two animals in the first two groups, respectively (25%), died of pneumonia. Subcutaneous sarcomas occurred in 9/12 rats injected with 10 mg/kg body weight, in 6/6 rats injected with 20 mg/kg body weight and in 4/14 rats given a single injection of 50 mg/kg body weight. No subcutaneous tumor was reported to have occurred in control rats ... injected with arachis oil alone. Local tumors occurred more than one year after the first injection; histologically, these were fibrosarcomas and spindle-cell and round-cell sarcomas. In most cases ... pulmonary and lymph-node metastases were observed."
[IARC. Monographs on the Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risk of Chemicals to Man. Geneva: World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, 1972-PRESENT. (Multivolume work).V41 218 (1986)]
Click here to download a summary of the animal studies that have been done to date.
In its recent risk assessment  EPA found that methyl iodide caused thyroid tumors, but invoked a previously unheard of cancer ranking -- "Not likely to be carcinogenic to humans at doses that do not alter rat thyroid hormone homeostasis." Download the EPA Cancer Assessment. It is worth noting that the Cancer Assessment Review Committee used only a single study to come to this conclusion -- a study in which 62-66% of the rats in both the control group and the high dose group died during the experiment and only 52-54% of the rats in the other dose groups survived (see p. 11 in the Cancer Assessment), bringing into question the scientific validity of the study. Of particular concern is that the registrant, Arysta LifeSciences, determined the number of tumors caused by methyl iodide only for animals that survived beyond the first year of the study. (See page 7 in the Cancer Assessment, footnote to table 1). In addition to the thyroid tumors observed in the survivors of the study, large and significant changes were observed in thyroid hormone levels, which are intimately tied to metabolic disorders and immune function. EPA did not evaluate the possible health outcomes of these changes. Other toxic effects noted by EPA include respiratory tract and salivary gland lesions, neurological toxicity, reduced body weight, and developmental toxicity (manifested as fetal losses and decreased live births). Download the EPA Health Effects Assessment.
Methyl Iodide Interferes with Metabolic Processes
Several studies indicate that at intermediate doses, methyl iodide interferes with both lipid and glucose metabolism. Injection of male rabbits with 57 mg/kg of MeI for 2 days resulted in a five-fold increase in plasma triglyceride levels, with a significant increase in the very low density lipoprotein (the "bad cholesterol") and accumulation of fatty deposits in the liver. 
Another study showed that when methyl iodide was injected into rabbits, basal levels of insulin and glucagons increased, and plasma glucose levels responded abnormally to insulin and glucose injections, indicating disturbances in the regulation of carbohydrate metabolism. 
1. S.R. Yates, Methyl Iodide as a Replacement for Methyl Bromide: Environmental Implications, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, October 15, 1996.
2. The vapor pressure of methyl iodide is 400 mm Hg, compared to 1,800 mm Hg for methyl bromide, 18 mm Hg for MITC and 29 mm Hg for 1,3-dichloropropene (Telone).
3. J. Gan, et al., J. Env. Qual. 1997, 26: 1107–15, as cited in the Hazardous Substances Data Bank, National Library of Medicine.
4. J. Gan and S.R. Yates, J. Agr. Food Chem., 1996, 44: 4001–8, as cited in the Hazardous Substances Data Bank, National Library of Medicine.
5. Methyl Iodide Product Information, Iodine.com.
6. a) Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values and Biological Exposure Indices, American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, Inc., 6th ed. Volumes I, II, III. Cincinnati, OH: ACGIH, 1991, p. 1013.
b) Methyl Iodide, Chemical Health and Safety Data, U.S. National Toxicology Program.
7. Methyl Iodide (Iodomethane), Air Toxics Website, U.S. EPA.
8. M.M. Moore, D. Clive, Environ. Mutagen., 1982, 4: 499-519.
9. Carbon-14 labeling studies indicate that methyl iodide methylates DNA, with DNA adducts detected in the stomach, forestomach, liver and lung of male and female rats exposed to [14C]-methyl iodide orally or by inhalation. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risk of Chemicals to Man, Geneva: World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, 1999, 71: 506.
10. Monohalomethanes: Methyl Chloride, Methyl Bromide, Methyl Iodide, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, September 27, 1984, page 22.
11. California Proposition 65 list, California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
12. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risk of Chemicals to Man, Geneva: World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, 1986, 41: 222.
13. IARC monographs on the Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risk of Chemicals to Man, Volume 15 (1977), 41 (1986) and 71 (1999).
14. Iodomethane Preliminary Risk Assessment, US EPA, Docket ID #EPA-HQ-OPP-2005-0252, Go to Docket.
15. H. Matsui, et al., Sangyo Igaku, 1982, 24: 85-89.
16. H. Matsui, et al., Hormone Metab. Res. 1982, 14: 676-67.
See the complete list ofresources about pesticide drift.