Tag Archives: pesticides

Is Fiona Ma settling personal grudges by hurting Californians’ heatlh?

Santa Barbara’s Daily Sound had a fairly disturbing report late last week on the killing of Das Williams’ (AD35) anti-pesticide bill AB1176 at the hands of Fiona Ma:

A vote by San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma to kill a fellow Democrat’s environmental bill has sparked questions about whether the move was a form of political payback.

Ma, D-San Francisco, voted against Assemblyman Das Williams’ AB 1176, a bill that would have placed tighter regulations and controls on toxic pesticides.

Ma, the state Speaker Pro Tempore, was one of two Democrats who voted alongside Republicans against the bill on Jan. 11, at a meeting of the Agriculture Committee. Cathleen Galgiani, who represents the Central Valley, and who is running for a state Senate seat this year, voted against it.

Williams and representatives from the Ventura-based social justice group CAUSE are disappointed that Ma, a San Francisco lawmaker, would oppose the environmental bill.

The bill is important because it would have dramatically shortened the process for evaluating and regulating pesticides:

The bill would have required the Department of Pesticide Regulations on a more timely basis to develop control measures and evaluate the effects of pesticides that qualify as Toxic Air Contaminants.

That process can currently take up to eight years. Williams’ bill would have required the state to develop control measures within two years of identifying a pesticide as a toxic air contaminant.

Why would Fiona Ma do this? Well, the circumstantial evidence suggests personal animus. She just got married to Jason Hodge, candidate for SD19 against Hannah-Beth Jackson, who is herself a close ally and mentor to Das Williams:

Ma is married to Jason Hodge, a firefighter and member of the Oxnard Harbor Commission, who is also running for state Senate against Hannah Beth-Jackson.

Williams supports Jackson, one of his mentors, and has been busy helping her in her campaign. Ma too has had an increasing presence in Santa Barbara politics. Ma gave former Santa Barbara City Council candidate Deborah Schwartz $5,000 in 2011.

Jackson and Hodge are tangled in a fierce battle for the 19th state Senate District seat. Although Jackson, a former assembly member, is deeply entrenched in Sacramento politics and has strong local ties to the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party, Hodge has racked up dozens of notable endorsements from labor associations.

It is curious that Ma would interject herself so personally into a feud that has been developing for years, at the expense of the health of all Californians. It’s no secret to central coast Democrats that there has been bad blood between progressives in the Santa Barbara and Ventura County Democratic establishments, and certain factions of labor allied with Pedro Nava and his friends. While the first battles began somewhat beforehand, the conflict came fully into the open when then Santa Barbara city councilman Das Williams challenged Pedro Nava’s wife Susan Jordan for AD35. Local progressive Democrats (including myself and Santa Barbara Dem Chair Daraka Larimore-Hall) and several labor unions quickly rallied around the more progressive Williams, while more conservative Tri-Counties Central Labor Council President Marilyn Valenzuela and her allies–including Jason Hodge–rallied behind Jordan. Mr. Williams won decisively. Since then, Pedro Nava has gone on a vendetta against local Democrats, endorsing and doing robocalls for DTS candidates against the endorsements of the Santa Barbara and Ventura County Democratic Parties. When I ran for Party Chair in Ventura County two years ago, Ms. Valenzuela and Mr. Hodge used every piece of leverage in their power to oppose me and the progressive faction, ultimately defeating me by one vote, but were unable to prevent a majority of the Executive Board from falling into progressive hands, including my own election as 1st Vice Chair.

Now, with Mr. Hodge running as a centrist against the more progressive Hannah-Beth Jackson, the feuding battle lines have deepened. Hannah-Beth Jackson won the pre-endorsement vote with approximately 74% against Mr. Hodge; nearly every grassroots vote went to Jackson, but votes from a single Dem club controlled by Ms. Valenzuela gave Hodge almost the entirety of his 26% after an aggressive dues-free membership drive to influence the process.

It is into this hornet’s nest that Fiona Ma has voluntarily walked for her new husband. Fiona’s defense of her vote is that it would create a burdensome new regulatory step:

“After numerous meetings with many stakeholders and educating myself on the list of chemicals in question, I ultimately agreed with the Analysis by the Environment/Safety and Toxic Committee that said: ‘AB 1176 replaces the interdepartmental pesticide   prioritization process initiated in 2004 by DPR (Department of Pesticide Regulations) with the Office of Environmental Health and Hazards Assessment and the Air  Resources Board. This time consuming, unnecessary step would require significant staffing increases for all three agencies, especially for OEHHA and DPR to review pesticides that do not need or merit this review.'” [Emphasis added]

But there is no reason to believe that any of this is true. The bill is tightly written to speed the regulatory process; it’s true that extra regulatory staff would probably be required to speed along the review process to ensure that dangerous contaminants are stopped within years, rather than decades. But complaining of needed extra staff is reminiscent of conservative arguments against every regulatory improvement, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is particularly hard to believe that Ms. Ma is acting in good faith given that 1) she and her husband have both taken significant campaign contributions from pesticide companies ($1,500 from Monsanto and $2,500 from Trical to both Ma and Hodge, each) and given that her stated reasons for opposing the bill are almost directly drawn from the language of pesticide and big ag companies themselves against the bill. Compare this section quoted from a group letter signed by big ag advocates and the California Chamber of Commerce, to Ma’s statement above:

AB1176 would require a mandatory review and written concurrence of every federal Hazardous Air Pollutant that is identified as a TAC, many of which have been removed from use or phased out. This time consuming, unnecessary step would require significant staffing increases for all three agencies, especially for OEHHA and DPR to review pesticides that do not need or merit this review. [[Emphasis added]

That group letter was penned in April/May 2011, when those organizations still opposed sections of the proposed law. Williams worked with the opposition to remove the objectionble portions while maintaining its intent, which is to be more responsive to protecting Californians’ health. That same opposition group wrote a follow-up letter on Jan. 9  to the chair of the Ag Committee, of which Ma is a member, clearly removing their opposition. Yet she still quotes that earlier opposition, nearly verbatim, to support her Nay vote. I’m told by various sources that had she accepted one of three simple phone calls from  Williams, the amendments that were made in May 2011 could have easily been explained to the Speaker Pro Tem.

But this is not the first time that Fiona Ma has taken curious stands against a popular bill by Williams. She also played a role in weakening Williams’ AB438 against library privatization, and is rumored to be putting up obstacles to a Williams-authored farmworker bill currently in the works.

Californians deserve better than to have good legislation crucial to our collective health killed by influential politicians, in order to benefit campaign contributors and settle petty personal scores for their new spouse’s political allies. That’s behavior one would expect from Republicans, but not from Democrats.

Methyl Iodide Approved under Industry Pressure

Methyl Iodide was approved almost a year ago by the State of California to be used in the production in many different crops but most widely known in the growing of Strawberries.  It’s been a controversial decision ever since and many State and National organizations have been pushing for not only the State to reconsider this approval but has sued the State and California has also asked the EPA to ban the toxic pesticide all together because of it is a known carcinogen and often used in the laboratory to create cancer.

California Watch has uncovered more evidence that the State’s approval was due to influence by the pesticide’s manufacturer Arysta LifeScience and they went to great lengths to influence the scientific evidence on whether to ban their pesticide due to safety concerns.  And there are many safety concerns.

The Feb. 16, 2010, memo by an executive of methyl iodide manufacturer Arysta LifeScience said maximum exposure levels that the state’s scientists had recommended for workers and people who live near agricultural fields were unacceptable to the company because they were too low.

“It is essential to revisit the toxicology assessment to come up with less conservative assumptions,” wrote John Street, the company’s global head of development and registration.

The memo was addressed to Jim Wells of Environmental Solutions Group, a Sacramento-based consulting firm that Arysta hired to help win regulatory approval for methyl iodide in California. Wells served as director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation in the 1990s.

Street recommended a range of exposure levels Arysta would support and laid out the calculations state pesticide regulation managers could make to arrive at those levels.

Eight months later, DPR managers overruled their own toxicologists – and a panel of expert scientists the department had commissioned to review the toxicologists’ work – and approved the use of methyl iodide at so-called regulatory target levels nearly identical to the lowest levels Street said would be acceptable to Arysta.

Arysta got to dictate what levels of Methyl Iodide are safe for human exposure even though in reality the Department of Pesticide Regulation set those standard much lower.  Why would they do that?  I mean, why would DPR set such low levels?  Oh that’s right, we have such regulations set forth in order to protect human health and environmental resources like water and soil but hey, if the manufacturer of the product, who is set to make a hefty profit by the sale of the pesticide says it’s safe, it must be safe!

Over and over again we are seeing the regulating arms of our Government, that are there to protect consumers, workers and those who live near agriculture (because in the case of methyl iodide, it’s not just about the people who eat the food its treated with, it’s a great health risk to those who work with it and live near it) being bought and sold by lobbyists of the Corporations set to profit dearly.

Ultimately this is not just about a broken system of who gets to say what is done where, but a broken food system that is far too dependent on artificial fertilizers and pesticides that not only puts our health at risk but our very precious resources as well.  We often think of water in California since it’s such a highly demanded commodity but soil should also be seen as a nonrenewable resource.  Healthy, untainted soil is also important to growing food and we are taking that resource for granted.

Pregnant farm workers exposed to pesticide drift while harvesting organic onions


“I am very afraid because I do not know what tomorrow will bring because I am four months pregnant and I worry for my unborn baby. Three days later [after being exposed to pesticide drift], I am still vomiting and have a major headache. My pregnancy doctor could not see me as he was going to charge me and I did not have any money to pay him.”

   — Julia Rojas Sabino, Organic Onion Worker

Pesticide drift poisonings should be a thing of the past. Agribusiness knows pesticides are dangerous. Pesticide applicators know pesticides drift. Proper precautions should be taken by applicators. Every farm should make sure supervisors know what to do in a drift emergency. It’s simple. Right?


Tell that to Julia Rojads Sabino and the other farm workers who were exposed to pesticide drift on Friday, July 10, while harvesting onions in Tehachapi. Julia and another farm worker were pregnant (four and five months respectively).

The workers thought they were safe. After all, they were harvestingorganic onions. They weren’t dealing with pesticides, right?

However, the orchard next door wasn’t organic.

Julia and her crew arrived at the field. Julia noticed that to the side of her crew–approximately 60 meters away–there was a man ready to spray pesticides in the apple orchard in the next field.

Julia and the crew she was part of began working at 6am, at the same time they began spraying. They began to smell a very strong odor. Julia told us, “The smell became stronger and we spoke to the crew boss. He told us it was lime [sulfur] and after a while gave us masks for our mouths.” She said these masks did nothing to protect workers against the smell or the chemical.

Workers started sneezing and vomiting and their eyes began stinging. The crew boss called the supervisor and when he arrived ten minutes later they moved the workers to another location and told them to have lunch.

Julia told us, “My coworkers were vomiting and their eyes burning. I felt very dizzy and was vomiting and I tried drinking lots of water to see if it would go away.” It didn’t.

The fire department and ambulance arrived and the sickest workers–including Julia–were put in an enclosed area, stripped down and given a high pressure bath and taken to the county hospital. Julia told us all “they did an ultrasound and gave us a glass of cold water.”

Julia is worried about the effects these pesticides, Assail 70 WP (acemidiprid) and Fujimite 5EC (fenpryoximate), might have on her unborn baby or herself. Luckily she was past her 1st trimester, so the chance of birth defects is much lower.

The laws and regulations out there say an applicator should not spray pesticides in a way that creates a danger of contaminating other people.  The laws say the employer should have moved the workers out of harm’s way and ensured they were taken to the doctor immediately.

However, a lot of this is a matter of judgment. There are no set buffer zones or required communication between separate farms about planned spraying. (If it was the same farm, there is required notification for other workers expected to come within 1/4 mile of the sprayed area.)

This is wrong.
Tell the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to make sure the county issues stiff fines. But even more importantly these rules have to stop being just a matter of judgment. Established minimum buffer zones need to be set. Communication between farms needs to be a must, not a maybe.


TAKE ACTION: Chemical industry urges CA gov to ignore science & approve toxic pesticide methyl iodi


The highly toxic, mutagenic, new pesticide methyl iodide is currently being given a comprehensive review by the Department of Pesticide Regulations and the agency’s registration decision is pending advice from a panel of scientists convened specifically to review this chemical.

However, according to inside sources, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is being pressured by corporate interests to fast-track registration of this toxic pesticide–despite serious concerns from the state’s own scientists at the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).

Take action:

“Methyl iodide is so toxic that scientists working with it in the laboratory take extreme precautions when handling it, using a ventilation hood, gloves, and special equipment for transferring it so it does not escape to the air,” notes Dr. Susan Kegley. “This degree of protection is not possible in an agricultural setting where the pesticide would be applied at rates of 175 pounds per acre in the open air. Buffer zones of 400 feet for a 40-acre fumigation would still result in a dose of methyl iodide to neighbors that is 375 times higher than DPR believes is acceptable. For workers, the numbers are much worse, with exposures estimated at 3,000 times higher than DPR’s acceptable dose for some tasks.”

Methyl iodide’s manufacturer, Arysta, withdrew its New York application for registration after state officials raised concerns about groundwater contamination and potential exposure for workers, bystanders and nearby residents–especially children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Now the industry is asking California’s governor to order DPR to fast track the registration of this deadly fumigant. This is not acceptable. Please take action and tell the Governor to keep methyl iodide of California’s fields.

Take action:

Take Action: Stop toxic methyl iodide from being used in California

(Nice action diary from the United Farm Workers. – promoted by Julia Rosen)

E-mail CA officials today!

A little over a week ago, the EPA approved the use of methyl iodide–a dangerous toxic, mutagenic pesticide. The EPA is refusing to listen to us and the dozens of prominent scientists who have repeatedly pointed out the dangers associated with this pesticide.

California is one of the largest users of fumigant pesticides. The state must give a separate approval to methyl iodide before this toxic chemical can be used. We asking for your immediate help to encourage California authorities to do the right thing and refuse approval of this deadly compound.


By sending an e-mail today, you can help protect the tens of thousands of farmworkers who work and live in California along with consumers who eat the California-grown produce.

There is still time to pressure the CA Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). The California’s state review of methyl iodide isn’t scheduled to be completed until late 2008. Up until this point, DPR has been cautious about use of this pesticide. A February 2006 letter that the California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) submitted to the EPA expressed serious reservations about the chemical’s high toxicity and the potential harm it posed to “workers and bystanders, as well as residents living near treated fields.” However, it’s very important that you give DPR immediate feedback, in order to let officials know you are watching their actions in light of the EPA’s disastrous decision. 


As an October 11, Sacramento Bee editorial, entitled “New danger in the fields – State should keep methyl iodide out” points out, “While [methyl iodide] does not damage the ozone, methyl iodide is more acutely toxic than methyl bromide. It is so dangerous that chemists who handle tiny amounts of it in laboratory settings must first don protective hoods and double gloves and use specially sealed bottles and syringes to ensure none of the chemical escapes…The EPA ignored objections raised by 52 eminent scientists, including five Nobel Laureates for chemistry, who signed a letter last month advising the EPA not to register methyl iodide. ‘As scientists and physicians familiar with this chemical,’ they wrote, ‘we are concerned that pregnant women and the fetus, children, the elderly, farmworkers and other people living near application sites would be at serious risk if methyl iodide is permitted in agriculture.'” (For background information, click here to see last weeks’ UFW alert to the EPA)

Please E-mail Mary-Ann Warmerdam, Director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation TODAY and tell the DPR to protect the public and the environment by not allowing this pesticide to be used.


Sacramento Bee editorial

Letter to EPA by scientists